Needle of terror on Paris streets: Muggers find syringes make a potent weapon

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'YOU NO longer have to shoot, kill or wound,' said a Paris police officer on the latest fashion in French muggings. 'It is enough just to frighten.' He was commenting on a nightmarish trend in crime in the French capital - muggers armed with syringes allegedly tainted with the Aids virus. Since the beginning of this month police have received complaints about eight attacks by apparent drug-users who tried the tactic mostly in Les Halles, the former food market turned shopping and fast-food mall where the drugs trade flourishes.

Les Halles, a favourite meeting place for the young, including the clean-living, can be an eerie place at night; even a refusal to give a drugged smoker a light can be taken as a snub which is likely to earn the

passer-by an uncomfortable few moments as the addict and his friends dance round. A heavy presence of baton-wielding police seems to be little deterrent.

At least two of the muggers have been caught and are in jail awaiting trial on charges of using 'threats with a weapon' - a charge more usually applied to guns or knives.

Last week, the Paris police issued a formal warning that hypodermic needles had now become an instrument of crime. This came after much soul- searching: the police authorities were caught between a responsibility to inform the public and a fear that publicising the new outrage might lead to it becoming more widespread.

In one case, a woman was stabbed with a syringe when her attacker, a woman, grew impatient because she was not handing over her money quickly enough. The victim eventually surrendered 700 francs ( pounds 85) - enough to buy one gramme of heroin. It is too early for tests to establish whether the victim was contaminated. At least six months must pass before a reliable test can be made.

What has surprised police are both the novelty of the method and the speed with which the trend is growing. The first incident was reported at the beginning of the month in a respectable, residential part of the Left Bank. By mid-month, another five attacks had been recorded. The latest two reported incidents occurred last Sunday and Monday near Les Halles. In the last attack, a man was threatened as he came out of an underground station and the police were able to catch the mugger.

So far, the police said, there was no evidence that the attacks were other than isolated incidents but it was likely that word would spread and 'gangs of addicts will get organised'. Although such muggings have been largely restricted to Paris, there has been one incident on the Atlantic coast at Les Sables d'Yonne in the Vendee department south-west of Paris where a heroin addict held up a pharmacist with a syringe and forced him to hand over medicines. Police managed to arrest that attacker. The syringe muggings, one police officer said fatalistically, were 'probably a sign of the times. They are likely to multiply and give ideas to lots of others.'

(Photograph omitted)