A band of up to 30 youths forced passengers out of a bus in a southern Paris suburb in broad daylight, set it on fire and then stoned firefighters who came to the rescue, a police official said.
Police cordoned off the neighbourhood in Grigny, in the Essonne region, after the attack, which came five days before France marks the one-year anniversary of the start of three weeks of fiery riots by poor suburban youths.
District police chief Jean-Francois Papineau called Sunday’s bus attack “deliberate”. He said the vehicle was forced to stop at a road block at about 2 pm. Two youths then entered the back of the bus to clear out passengers before dousing it with petrol and setting it ablaze.
The blaze gutted the bus and spread to four parked cars, Papineau told LCI television.
When firefighters arrived, the youths began stoning them, he said. No-one was injured. At least one person was arrested. The local prefecture said nearly 30 youths were involved in the incident.
Meanwhile, France’s minister for social cohesion, Jean-Louis Borloo, called on citizens to act responsibly because “tensions are raw just as we’re in the process of resolving the difficulties”.
The daylight bus-burning evoked memories of the riots. It followed nearly a half-dozen incidents in recent weeks in which suburban youths have attacked police officers, in some cases in planned ambushes. Such clashes have raised tensions ahead of Friday’s anniversary of the start of the riots.
Police secured the Grande Borne neighbourhood of Grigny, the local government said, adding that order was quickly restored.
The riots last year laid bare rampant discrimination in the housing projects surrounding France’s big cities where numerous French of immigrant origin live, separated from mainstream life.
On Sunday, five people were placed under investigation for attempted murder in relation to an October 13 ambush in the town of Epinay-sur-Seine, north of Paris, in which police were lured to a housing project then attacked by about 30 youths. One officer hit by a rock required 30 stitches to the face.
The government has since provided funds and enacted numerous measures in a bid to reverse the situation. However, the problem remains entrenched, and there are no concrete signs that daily violence has diminished.
Borloo, the social cohesion minister, said it could take three or four years to see concrete results from the efforts his government has put in place, which he called “a sort of enormous Marshall Plan”, in reference to the project to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Speaking on Europe-1 radio, he called on “parents, associations, mayors, all (those involved)” in the suburbs to “act responsibly” to avoid a new explosion.
“Authority is clearly needed but we also need dialogue and respect, much more than we had in those neighbourhoods,” he said.