France’s elite RAID police unit has arrested five Chechens after four nights of gang violence in the city of Dijon, according to the public prosecutor’s office and a police source.
Thursday’s announcement of the arrests came nearly a week after the violence first broke out late on Friday when dozens of Chechen youths from across France came to the Dijon suburb of Gresilles.
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Eric Mathias, Dijon’s prosecutor, cited allegations that the Chechens had issued a nationwide call for retaliation against the North African community in Gresilles on social media, after blaming them for an initial attack on a Chechen teenager.
The French government sent police reinforcements and Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez to Dijon on Tuesday to quell the clashes that have left several people injured and cars burned.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen also visited Dijon to urge tougher action.
“It is not just a question of putting ourselves between two communities but of putting an end to this sad sequence, without showing any weakness,” she told reporters.
The socialist mayor of Dijon, Francois Rebsamen, criticised what he saw as insufficient police deployment over the weekend.
“As justice comes too late and the police do not have the means, the Chechen community decided to take the law into its own hands,” he said.
Regional prefect Bernard Schmeltz – the top local state official – defended the lack of forceful intervention by the security forces. The tactic of encirclement used “was the only practical strategy”, he said.
“The local residents were not left abandoned,” he added in response to criticism of the security force’s apparent passivity.
Schmeltz said that the latest incidents on Monday night were due to local Dijon residents and not members of the Chechen community.
Chechnya is a Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading for Western Europe.
More Chechens have flowed into exile in recent years due to disagreements with the strongman pro-Kremlin leader of the region Ramzan Kadyrov, who rights activists accuse of multiple violations.
There are no precise figures on the number of Chechens living in France as they are included with other Russian passport holders. There are communities in Paris, around Nice in the south and in the east of France.