Gangland murders in Marseille, ‘the city that eats its children’, prompt crisis talks

Gangland killings sit uneasily with city’s status as European Capital of Culture

"Marseille is a city that eats its own children," José Anigo told a French newspaper in 2011. Anigo played football for Olympique de Marseille (OM) for eight years before briefly becoming the club's manager and then its sporting director. On Thursday his son Adrien (30) became the 15th victim of gang warfare to die in the Mediterranean port city this year.

Adrien Anigo was at the wheel of a rented Renault Twingo when two men on a motorcycle, wearing black helmets and gloves, pulled up and fired a dozen bullets into his neck and head.

Interior minister Manuel Valls will hold a crisis meeting with local officials today in response to Anigo’s murder, one of two killings in Marseille on Thursday. Valls has appealed for a “national pact” to end such violence.

“The housing projects have been abandoned to drug traffickers,” he said. Valls blames Marseille’s conservative mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin for the city’s lawlessness. Gaudin blames the socialist Valls.


Capital of culture
The gangland killings sit uneasily with Marseille's status as European Capital of Culture 2013. France's third-largest city has the highest crime rate in the country. Unemployment is twice the national average and one in four households lives below the poverty line. Police say drug dealers are the city's leading employers.

For nearly a decade successive interior ministers have dispatched police reinforcements to the troubled city, to little effect.

"They don't take on the real causes," Xavier Monnier, author of Marseille, ma ville, told Aujourd'hui en France. "Poverty, the isolation of the high-rise projects, the lack of public transport. Add to that endemic political corruption and people have lost totally lost their bearings."

Some of the victims, for example the 22-year-old business student whose throat was slashed with a broken bottle when he went to collect a friend at the city’s main railway station, Gare de Marseille-Saint- Charles, on August 9th, appear to have no connection with the criminal milieu.

The same cannot be said of Adrien Anigo. He was imprisoned for participation in a dozen armed robberies committed in 2006-2007, was released on procedural grounds in 2010 and was due to stand trial again next spring. “The street swallowed up my son,” his father said in 2011.

Though a director of the much-loved OM, José Anigo too has been viewed with suspicion. He remained close to a childhood friend who became a gang leader; was investigated over commission on players’ contracts; and successfully sued a French tabloid that published an article about him titled “The Godfather strikes back”.

The OM was tainted by Adrien Anigo's criminal activities. He used a car rented by the club for one of his robberies. His father provided Adrien with the OM trinkets with which he bartered while in prison. After his release, Adrien ran a sports shop and brasserie and had settled down, marrying and having two children.

His notoriety was the only thing that differentiated him from the 14 other men killed this year, or the 24 killed last year. Also on Thursday, four hooded men ambushed Kevin El Malki (24) when he arrived to work at a rubbish processing plant near Marseille. Malki was shot in the back as he tried to flee, then run over with a car and shot again as he lay dying.

On August 19th a 25-year-old was shot at close range by motorcyclists in traffic, like Anigo. That killing prompted a trip to Marseille by prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and six cabinet ministers. A year earlier, Ayrault had announced a “strategy of reconquest” for Marseille.

"I rang the alarm bell, saying they should deploy the army in the housing projects," the socialist senator and mayor of two Marseille districts, Samia Ghali, told Le Monde. "Nothing has changed."

The violence is no longer confined to north Marseille. On August 18th an 18-year-old was fatally stabbed in the chest outside a night club near Marseille’s Vieux-Port. One of three assailants was injured. They went to a hospital emergency room, where a male nurse told them they would have to wait. So they stabbed the nurse in the arm.

There have been at least three violent incidents in Marseille hospitals in the past month. In at least one case, medical personnel did not report the attack out of fear of reprisals.