French rioters set mayor’s home on fire while family sleeps inside

Home of the mayor of l'Hay-les-Roses Vincent Jeanbrun
Police in front of Vincent Jeanbrun's home after it was attacked during a fifth night of violence - NASSIM GOMRI/AFP

Rioters rammed a car into the home of a mayor in southern Paris before setting it on fire while his wife and children were sleeping.

Protesters chased Melanie Nowak and her two children behind the house and into the garden as the family tried to escape, in the latest example of fierce violence gripping France.

The mother suffered a serious leg fracture after trying to push her children over the wall that separates her garden from her neighbour’s backyard and was recovering in hospital on Sunday morning. One of the children was also injured.

Vincent Jeanbrun, the mayor of L’Haÿ-les-Roses, a suburb south of Paris, said the attack on his family was an “assassination attempt”.

“Last night, a milestone was reached in horror and ignominy,” said Mr Jeanbrun, who is also the spokesman for the conservative Republican party.

Home of the Mayor of l'Hay-les-Roses Vincent Jeanbrun
Vincent Jeanbrun's house was set on fire by protesters - NASSIM GOMRI/AFP

The incident took place on the fifth night of nationwide unrest, as France witnessed more vandalism, pillaging, fires and clashes with police.

The country has been rocked by riots after the police killing of Nahel Merbouz, 17, a French teenager of North African descent last week, who was shot at point blank range during a traffic stop.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, on Sunday praised authorities for their “resolute action” which had led to a “calmer night”.

On Saturday evening, police made 719 arrests throughout France, compared to 1,311 arrests made the night before.

Mr Darmanin promised justice for Mr Jeanbrun and his family, “victims of a cowardly and terrible attack”.

“An investigation for attempted murder has been opened and significant resources of the judicial police are mobilised. The perpetrators of these facts will answer for their heinous acts,” he tweeted.

Vincent Jeanbrun
Vincent Jeanbrun was working at the town hall at the time of the attack - Instagram

The attack happened at 1.30am on Sunday morning. Mr Jeanbrun said that rioters launched a car through the front of his home and set it alight while his wife and two young daughters aged five and seven were sleeping. They attackers also set the family car aflame, and fired mortar fireworks against the mother and children as they tried to flee. The mayor was working at the town hall at the time.

The local prosecutor said a plastic bottle was also uncovered at the scene filled with a fire accelerant. Police have launched an investigation into attempted murder.

“Given the gravity of the situation, the prosecutor’s office has chosen to qualify this act as an assassination attempt and everything will be done to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” said Stephane Hardoin in L’Haÿ-les-Roses.

Melanie Nowak, Vincent Jeanbrun's wife
Melanie Nowak, Mr Jeanbrun's wife, and their two young daughters were sleeping when the attack happened - Aymeric Guillonneau

Élisabeth Borne, the French prime minister, spoke out against the attack, condemning the “intolerable incident” and promising that “the culprits will be prosecuted with the greatest firmness”.

Protesters, mostly minors, have torched cars, damaged infrastructure and clashed with police in an outpouring of rage since an officer shot Nahel. A Holocaust memorial in Nanterre, The Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation and the Resistance, was also defaced with anti-police slogans during widespread riots last week.

Around 7,000 officers will be deployed again across Ile-de-France Sunday night, and trams and buses will again stop running as of 9pm.

The killing was captured on video, which spread on social media and fuelled anger over police violence against minorities, exposing severe racial tensions in France.

‘We want things to calm down’

On Sunday, the victim’s grandmother spoke out against the escalation of violence and appealed for calm.

“The people who are rioting, I’m telling them, ‘stop,’” she said in an interview with French TV.

“They’re using Nahel as a pretext. Stop smashing the windows, the buses, the schools. We want to calm things down. We don’t want them to destroy things, we want them to stay calm, these people.”

The grandmother also expressed her indignation at the fundraising campaign in support of the police officer’s family, which has so far raised nearly £429,000.

“My heart hurts. But he will be punished like everyone else. I trust in justice.”

Laurent Nuñez, the Paris police chief, warned it would be premature to say that the riots are on the decline.

“For the moment, we can’t talk about a decline, I don’t think it would be reasonable,” he told BFMTV.

“We have to be extremely careful. We will continue to be very present.”

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, postponed a state visit to Germany that was set to begin on Sunday, holding a special security meeting with members of his government on Sunday night.

After the meeting, an official who was present said Mr Macron had asked authorities to “continue to do everything to restore order and guarantee a return to calm”, French media reported.

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, said that Germany was watching the unrest in France “with concern”.

“I don’t expect that France will become unstable, even if the images of course are very distressing,” Mr Scholz said.

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