French prison guards hurt in new ‘extremist’ attack as wardens clash with riot police

Two French prison guards were attacked by knife-wielding prisoners on Friday, one of whom is believed to have been a radicalized Islamist. The latest attack comes as guards clashed with riot police during a strike over security concerns.

French prison guards hurt in new 'extremist' attack as wardens clash with riot police

The attack on prison guards, the fourth in recent days, took place at Borgo jail on the island of Corsica.

Two wardens were hurt when three prisoners charged at them, at least one of whom was armed with a knife. Both were taken to hospital with one suffering a stab wound to the neck.

Initial reports in the French press suggest one of the inmates was a known Islamist extremist.

The inmates linked to the three other recent attacks were also known to have become radicalized raising new fears about how French prison authorities should deal with these dangerous prisoners.

Earlier on Friday French police fired tear gas to break up a picket line of striking prison guards outside Europe's biggest prison as unions pressed a fourth day of strikes across France over security concerns.

READ ALSO: 'We risk our lives for €1.5k a month' French prison guards on edge over radicalized inmates

The scuffles took place outside the Fleury-Merogis facility just south of Paris as prison guards protested after a string of brutal attacks that have
focused a spotlight on security problems and radicalisation inside often overcrowded French facilities.

Outside the entrance to the prison, which houses more than 4,300 inmates, around 150 striking guards had set up a barricade of burning tyres and wooden pallets to prevent their colleagues from getting to work, an AFP correspondent said.

But a contingent of riot police quickly broke through the picket line, firing tear gas to disperse the demonstrators and allowing those that wanted to work to get inside as the protesters were held behind a police barrier, the correspondent said.

“The CRS (riot police) charged and fired tear gas at us but we tried to resist,” a 28-year-old guard who gave his name only as Sacha told AFP

Litany of complaints

On Thursday, around 120 prisoners had refused to return to their cells after their midday walk in the yard before being brought back in with the help of intervention teams, France's prison administration service said.

Six prisoners who are thought to have led the protest were sent off to the punishment block, a union source said.

Despite talks to resolve the issue that began Tuesday and pledges by President Emmanuel Macron to outline plans for an overhaul of French prisons by the end of February, the unions decided to continue the industrial action.

The strike began on January 11 after a German convict, a former top Al-Qaeda militant, attacked three guards with scissors and a razor blade at a high-security prison in northern France.

On Thursday, guards at more than 123 facilities were “mobilised”, the UFAP-UNSA and the CGT unions said.

Figures provided by the prisons' administration said 87 of the country's 188 detention facilities had been affected to one degree or another by the strike action — around 46 percent.

Union officials have been holding talks with the justice ministry over longstanding complaints by guards of low pay, insufficient staffing and overcrowding at prisons.

Guards now also warn that their safety is at risk following several attacks by inmates linked to Islamic extremism or under surveillance because of the risk of radicalisation.


Prisons blocked across France after guards attacked by ‘radicalised’ inmate

Protesting prison guards blocked jails across France on Wednesday morning after two officers were left seriously wounded in an attack by a "radicalised" inmate. It's not the first time staff have been targeted by jihadist inmates.

Prisons blocked across France after guards attacked by 'radicalised' inmate
French prison guards protest after a previous attack by a radicalised inmate. Photo: AFP

Around 20 prisons were blocked across the country on Wednesday morning after unions representing guards called for action.

Protesting prison guards set fire to tyres and built barricades in front of the entrances to the establishments.

They vowed the no staff or visitors would gain access to the prisons as they protested to raise the alarm at the dangers they face on daily basis due to the number of radicalised prisoners.

“Colleagues want to go to work but we do not abandon them, we do not send them to die,” a local union leader at the Fleury-Merogis prison outside Paris, Thibault Capelle, told AFP.


The action follows Tuesday's incident when a “radicalised” inmate at a prison in northwest France seriously wounded two guards in a knife attack. 

He was later shot and injured in a police raid that also left his visiting partner fatally wounded.

Prisoner Michael Chiolo and his female partner had been holed up in the family-visiting area of the modern, high-security prison at Conde-sur-Sarthe 
in Normandy when police moved in and detained them, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Twitter.

Both were shot and wounded in the operation and “the woman died” of her injuries, a source close to the case said, adding that Chiolo was less seriously wounded in the cheek.

Elite police units moved in some 10 hours after 27-year-old Chiolo wounded the prison guards with a knife which Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet suggested might have been smuggled into the prison by his partner.

“There is no doubt as to the terrorist nature of this attack,” Belloubet told reporters earlier.

Chiolo, who was serving a 30-year sentence, is thought to have become a “radicalised” Islamist while in prison.

He shouted “Allahu Akhbar” (God is Greatest) during his rampage in the family-visiting area, prison staff representative Alassanne Sall told AFP.

The latest violence comes as prison staff nationwide, who have been demanding better working conditions, have repeatedly staged protests on Tuesdays.


In January 2018, prison staff held three weeks of protests after a guard was attacked by a jihadist inmate at a high-security jail in northern France.

Experts and trade unions have consistently raised the alarm about the spread of extremism in French prisons, leading the government to build special facilities to house dangerous individuals who are sometimes held in solitary confinement.

The Conde-sur-Sarthe prison is one of France's most secure jails and does not suffer from overcrowding, unlike other facilities, according to Belloubet.

But despite having been identified as an extremist, Chiolo was not housed in a secure wing for radicalised inmates which was opened in September, she added.

The first “jihadist attack” launched from within a prison in France took place in September 2016, according to prison authorities.

A Moroccan, jailed for attempting to travel to Syria to join jihadists, attacked two guards with a knife at a prison in Osny, northwest of Paris, saying he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State.

Then in January 2018, a German Islamist extremist, Christian Ganczarski, jailed for helping organise an attack against a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, wounded three prison guards in a knife attack at Vendin-le-Vieil, northern France, prompting staff to demand better safety and working conditions.