The gangs on the troubled La Castellane estate are thought to have been targeting police chief Pierre-Marie Bourniquel, due to meet Manuel Valls today.
Hooded gunmen today exchanged automatic rifle fire with police in Marseille as France’s Prime Minister visited the city to discuss crime-fighting.
Kalashnikov shots rang out across La Castellane, the troubled estate plagued by gangs fighting over the city’s drug trade.
They are thought to have been targeting Pierre-Marie Bourniquel, the local police chief who was due to meet Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister, today.
Mr Bourniquel, Marseille’s director of public safety, was accompanying officers who were attended the scene of suspected shoot-out between rival gangs.
Bullets narrowly missed their vehicles, while at least one policeman ‘lay on the floor of the car’ to insure he was not hit, said a local police source.
It is thought that those involved in the original gun fight numbered around 15 and had been involved in a turf war for many months.
It is Mr Valls, the Prime Minister, who has been at the forefront of a vast clampdown on suspected Islamic terrorists following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist shootings in Paris last month.
He had not yet arrived in Marseille before the shooting, and there were ‘no plans to cancel his visit’, the source added.
Seventeen victims died in the Paris attacks, including police and journalists and cartoonists from the notoriously anti-Islamic satirical magazine.
Four Jewish people were also shot dead in a Kosher store in eastern Paris, before all three Islamic terrorists were themselves shot dead.
The Paris killers had all been armed with Kalashnikovs, which are thought to have been smuggled into France from eastern Europe.
Referring to today’s attack, the Marseille police source said: ‘Shots were fired at police vehicles. Roads in and out of the estate have now been blocked, and officers are dealing with the situation. There are no reports of casualties so far.
The source said schools and colleges, including a kindergarten, had also been ‘locked down’ as the incident developed.
By late morning heavily armed police could be seen surrounding the estate, which has a large Muslim community, many from North African backgrounds.
La Castellane is best known in France as the birthplace of Zinedine Zidane, the French-Algerian footballer whose goals won the World Cup for the country in 1998.
Mr Valls said last month that terrorist attacks have exposed a ‘geographic, social, ethnic apartheid’ present in French society.
He said there was an urgent need to fight hatred and discrimination, especially in deprived estates which are home to many communities of immigrant origin, especially Muslim.
All three Paris terrorists were born and brought up on Paris sink estates, and had started out as street criminals.