Guns, Chechens and reprisal raids – what is going on in Dijon?

Local authorities say that calm has been restored to the eastern French town of Dijon after four nights of running battles, so what is behind the violence?

Guns, Chechens and reprisal raids - what is going on in Dijon?
The eastern French town has been rocked by four night of violence. Photo: AFP

What happened?

Starting on Friday, June 12th, a series of violent clashes between groups of Chechens and local residents rocked the usually quiet town of Dijon, which lies in the heart of the wine-producing Burgundy area.

Cars were set ablaze, people attacked, at least one person was shot and weapons were brandished in a series of clashes that continued over the weekend and into Monday.

What sparked this?

The trigger appears to have been an attack on a local teenage boy who is a member of the Chechen community. He was attacked and beaten by local gang members for reasons that are not clear.

Other members of the Chechen community – some of whom had travelled to Dijon from elsewhere – launched a 'reprisal' raid against those they believed were responsible.

Local gang members – some of them armed – retaliated and the situation spun out of control.

The boy's father has since appealed for calm.

He told French newspaper Le Parisien: “The story of my son's attack has spread on social media and within the Chechen community.

“But while we hadn't asked for anything, several people we don't know came spontaneously to Dijon. And they overreacted.”

Far right figures including Marine Le pen have seized on the incidents. Photo: AFP

Is it a race war?

No. The incidents have been seized upon by the far right, both within France and abroad, in an attempt to make political capital.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far right party Rassemblement National travelled to Dijon, despite being asked not to by local authorities, and launched an attack on president Emmanuel Macron.

Alarming images of the violence, some real and some seemingly filmed elsewhere, have also been circulated on social media by far right figures.

But at this stage it seems that the attacks are rooted in criminality and gangs, rather than having a racial dimension. They mostly took place in the Grésilles area of Dijon, a multi-ethnic area that is one of the town's poorest and most deprived and has seen problems with crime and drugs.

The boy who was attacked seems to have lived in the town, but many of the Chechens who took part in the violence are reported to have travelled from other parts of France, or even over the border from Germany and Belgium.

There are around 30,000 Chechens living in France, many fleeing the wars of the 1990s that have destablised the country.  

The clean-up operation has now begun. Photo: AFP

What's happening now?

For the moment, calm seems to have been restored.

Local police were undoubtedly caught out by the sudden eruption of violence but on Monday around 150 gendarmes mobiles – the specialist crowd control police officers from the national gendarmerie – were deployed to Dijon.

There have also been arrests made regarding the original assault on the teenager.

On Tuesday night things remained calm and now locals are beginning the clean-up operation.

The police investigation is ongoing and local authorities are also dealing with accusations from angry residents that they were “abandoned” during the four days of violence and terror.

The Junior Minister of the Interior Laurent Nunez, who was in Dijon on Tuesday, promised “an extremely firm response” to the incidents.


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Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”