Hundreds of French police, including special forces, raided a troubled Paris suburb at dawn Monday to round up suspected ringleaders of riots last year.
Police said they had detained 33 of the 38 people on their target list during one of the biggest operations of its kind ever staged in France.
Members of the RAID special police force, led the operation on about 10 apartment blocks in Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding districts, north of the capital, which was the focus of three nights of serious riots from November 25.
A column of armoured vehicles brought the police into the town under cover of dark. While some guarded the building entrances, groups of 30 police then raided each apartment, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.
A special "anti-gang" armoured car, bullet- and firebomb-proof, was used as the command centre as police headed for different apartments searching for suspects and evidence.
"I have never seen a police operation of this scope," prosecutor Marie-Therese de Givry told a press conference staged at the town's McDonald's burger restaurant.
"I hope that the inhabitants will understand that we are there to re-establish order and peace," she added.
Violence flared in Villiers-le-Bel and surrounding towns on November 25 after two teenagers died in a motorbike crash with a police car.
During three nights of rioting, some officers were hit by gunfire and the clashes left 119 police officers injured, five seriously, according to justice ministry figures. No figure has been given for casualties among the young rioters.
In December, police handed out leaflets in the area calling for witnesses to the shots fired. The leaflets offered rewards, going up to several thousand euros (dollars), for information and said sources could remain anonymous. Sources close to the inquiry, said at least three people came forward to give information that pointed to the role of two brothers in Villiers-le-Bel.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said immediately after the riots that everything would be done to find those responsible for the attacks. "That cannot rest unpunished, it is an absolute priority," he said.
Tensions have run high in France's high-immigration suburbs since the country's worst civil unrest in decades in 2005.
Sarkozy this month launched an aid programme for France's poor suburbs, where the populations have a high proportion of African immigrants and where youth unemployment runs around 40 percent. But the president also vowed a "war without mercy" against crime.
Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate who lost to Sarkozy in the presidential election, criticised the raids as a "police operation for the
media" just before municipal elections in France.
Source: Expatica (English)
See also: Paris: Riots , Paris: Riots continue , Paris: 3rd night of riots, Paris: Calm returns