Police raid estates looking for rioters

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The Independent Online

More than 1,000 police raided housing estates outside Paris in an early morning sweep today, detaining at least 20 people in a bid to find rioters who led an outburst of violence last year, police said.

Police were mobilised for raids in Villiers-le-Bel and in the neighbouring towns of Sarcelles, Gonesse and Arnouville as part of the investigation into the November riots, a police official said.

Most of those detained, aged 19 to 31, had been known to police, mainly for previous violence, according to police.

In one raid, about 100 police officers surrounded one building in Villiers-le-Bel across from a library and nursery that were burned down by rioters. It was not immediately clear whether there were arrests in that building.

Violence erupted on November 25-26 in Villiers-le-Bel, populated largely by families of immigrant backgrounds, after two teenage boys were killed in a motorbike crash with a police car. Police and local officials said it was an accident, but many residents were unconvinced.

The flare-up in Villiers-le-Bel stoked fears of broader unrest like the three weeks of riots across the nation's neglected suburbs two years earlier, in November 2005.

Many of those rioters were Arab or black, French-born children or grandchildren of immigrants from France's former colonies who were frustrated by entrenched discrimination and isolation.

In today's raid, police were targeting about 40 people suspected of attacking officers during last year's violence, a police official said.

Two gang leaders in particular were targeted, according to police, who said the two organised the unrest, telling others where to stand or how to attract police into poorly lit areas.

During the unrest, 130 officers were injured, including at least 10 when rioters fired shotguns at them.

Prosecutors in the nearby city of Pontoise opened a judicial inquiry into attempted homicide against the assailants. Investigators issued an appeal for witnesses and promised monetary rewards for information leading to the shooters.

The raids comes after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a sweeping plan earlier this month to better integrate poor suburban youth and tackle the racism they often face in the job market - and to better police their neighbourhoods.

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