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Worsening criminal gang violence in Marseille is likely to continue into 2024.

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 24 November 2023.

  • The trend appears to be driven mainly by a drug-related rivalry between two major gangs
  • Based on that, and the locations of gang activity, such violence is likely to pose a generally low risk to businesspeople and travellers

Criminal gang violence in Marseille, particularly gun violence, appears to be worsening. The risk such violence poses to business travellers generally remains low, although it seems to be rising slightly; a few bystanders have been killed this year. But these appeared inadvertent rather than opportunistic targeting of non-gang members. Police officials indicate that a feud between two drug gangs is driving most of this violence. Based on that, and the locations of gang activity, such crimes are likely to largely continue to occur in low-income areas of the city, away from areas frequented by tourists and businesspeople.

A significant rise in violent crime in recent years

In the southern city of Marseille, organised and violent gang crime, especially gun violence, appears to have been worsening roughly since the 1990s. That trend has become more acute in the last few years. Crime figures show that at least 45 people have already died in drug-related gang violence in the city this year, compared to 31 in all of 2022. Between mid-July and mid-August alone, 12 people were killed. The trend is also reflected in the number of weapons encountered in police raids; since January, the police have confiscated over 740 weapons (including over 60 assault rifles), an increase of 24% compared to 2022.

We forecast that violence will worsen further into 2024. The main driver – a drug-related turf rivalry between the ‘Yoda’ and ‘DZ Mafia’ gangs – is unlikely to be resolved quickly, according to local officials. They are fighting over control of the flow of drugs through the port of Marseille as well as drug dealing territory in the city. Data from the local authorities suggests these two gangs alone are responsible for at least 80% of gang murders this year. Local officials also recently stated that violence between them has become increasingly retaliatory and ‘vengeful’, and is drawing in younger men (also the majority of victims), who they say are vulnerable to manipulation.

The outlook for other factors driving the violence, such as socio-economic inequality is also negative. Residents of neighbourhoods where the gangs operate have recently told the press of their reluctance to cooperate with police, due to fear of reprisal and perceived official ethnic discrimination. Those areas have large populations that feel ethnically and religiously marginalised. A high-profile lawyer based in Marseille, recently quoted in local media, has suggested that the absence of community policing in recent years has limited the police’s ability to remedy these perceptions.

Risk to businesspeople still generally low

Gangs’ criminal activities generally occur away from the main business and tourist areas frequented by travellers, mainly in low-income, urban neighbourhoods (see map). These are largely in the city’s four most northern boroughs (commonly referred to as the Quartiers Nord), according to the French authorities, but also some impoverished areas closer to the city centre. That is specifically neighbourhoods such as Le Canet, Arnavaux, Bon Secours, St Barthelemy, St Jerome and La Cabucelle. But a few bystanders have been killed this year, indicating the incidental risk has slightly risen. Still, our organised crime risk level remains moderate for the city.

The above-mentioned disadvantaged areas seem to be worst affected by general crime as well. This means there is at least a reasonable chance of exposure to petty crime and theft in these areas, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching. That is also based on recent statements by local officials. They have also said that the risk of being targeted is higher for businesspeople and travellers wearing ‘expensive’ apparel. Although this is particularly in northern parts of Marseille, gangs do occasionally carry out criminal acts in other boroughs too. Our general crime risk level for the city is moderate.

Police impact limited, but major spread in violence unlikely

Police efforts in recent months mean we doubt there will be a major spread in violence and criminal activity to other areas of Marseille. These include strengthened operations to seize weapons and the deployment of elite forces to the most affected neighbourhoods. Since the start of this year, the police have arrested over 1,144 alleged drug dealers in the city (up 26% already from last year). Our monitoring suggests this is generally containing violence in existing areas, but is not sufficient to reverse the overall trend let alone tackle the roots of the problem, including the international trade of drugs and firearms passing through the city.

Image: Protesters walk past a burning trash bin during clashes with police in Marseille, southern France on 1 July 2023, after a fourth consecutive night of rioting over the killing of a teenager by police. Photo by Clement Mahoudeau/AFP via Getty Images.