Shocking images posted on social media showed the Kalashnikov wielding gunmen shooting into the air and pointing their guns at passersby in the Busserine neighbourhood on Monday afternoon.
?? Marseille : Sur cette vidéo amateur, on aperçoit les malfaiteurs armés dans le quartier de la Busserine, cherchant autour d'eux et faisant feu en l'air à plusieurs reprises. https://t.co/bateIxRSxF pic.twitter.com/IYy7uhjiqG
— Actu17 (@Actu17) May 21, 2018
The images were broadcast around the world and prompted President Emmanuel Macron to admit that France “has lost the battle against drug trafficking” in some areas.
A policeman who was among the squad who responded to emergency calls from residents in the Busserine neighbourhood has spoken of how he and his colleagues live in fear of being killed and how they stood no chance against the Kalashnikovs.
The officer, whose colleague had a gun pointed at him, said the gunmen were impossible to stop because there were so many members of the public around.
“If we had rammed their car or blocked them there would have been a lot of damage. You need to think we had civilians around us and above all there were children. Innocent people would have died.
The officer was shocked by the gunmens' brazen act, which he said was not their usual type of manoevre.
“In general when these individuals go to settle a score and go onto a housing estate to find someone they don't stay too long,” he said.
“But this time, they stayed a long time. They took a huge risk, but they knew it and they are not scared of us. They knew what they were doing.”
The police became involved in a brief car chase with the gunmen in their Renault Megane RS, but they lost the criminals on the motorway.
“We had no chance to catch them. Our vehicles are not adapted for this. They are too heavy with all the equipment we have. We can't catch a vehicle like that,” he said. “Even if we drove at 100km/h they were able to pull away because their car was very powerful.”
The officer also spoke of how they were outgunned by the criminals: his assault rifle versus their Kalashnikovs.
But the main problem for police in Marseille when it comes to drug gangs is not their cars or the guns so much.
“These criminals do not fear the police or the justice system,” he said.
Which means that among the police force in Marseille, a city where certain neighbourhoods have been blighted by gun violence in recent years, there is an increasing climate of fear.
“Of course I am scared,” said the officer. “I am a police officer but I am also a human, a father with a family. Each day I ask myself if I am going to see my children tonight.”
Marseille prosecutors have launched a probe and said “all means would be deployed” to track down the gunmen.