Police have been fired upon by hooded gunmen in a notoriously dangerous area of Marseille, just prior to a visit to the area by the French prime minister to hold talks about combating crime.
Hooded gunmen have fired on police in the French city of Marseille where the Prime Minister Manuel Valls had been due to visit.
Officers were responding to reports that up to 10 people had been shooting Kalashnikov assault rifles in the air.
On arrival at the notorious La Castellane housing estate on Monday morning, police came under fire in their car.
Some 7,000 residents in the area were put on lockdown and ordered not to go outside.
A creche was also evacuated as police special forces were sent into the sealed-off estate, which is plagued by drug gangs and violence.
Marseille police chief, Pierre-Marie Bourniquel, said: “We sent up some helicopters to see what’s happening from above.
“I won’t let my team nor the population take any risks. Everything is in place and we are ready to intervene.
“We’re going to conduct a search and try to find the guys, we think they’re gone but we don’t know yet. We must be very careful.”
He added: “I suppose that they were aiming at the police cars with their revolving lights and sirens.
“Was the police the aim? I don’t know but the shooting came our way.
“SWAT teams are scouting and will soon take action. Then one or two teams of police forces will watch the area night and day.”
France has been on high alert in the wake of recent terror attacks that have left 20 people dead, including the gunmen.
However, it has been suggested the shooting in Marseille is drug-related.
Local politician Samia Ghali tweeted that La Castellane is in a “state of siege”, adding it is was her “worst nightmare”.
She later told BFMTV: “It’s got everything – prostitution, drugs trafficking, violence.
“It’s a dangerous cocktail and we saw evidence of that today.”
French journalist Stefan De Vries told press, “The area is sealed now and heavily-armed squad teams are in the area.
“There is a very high murder rate but almost all the murders are gang-related. Very few victims are civilians.”
According to experts, “The gap between organised crime and terrorists is quite blurred because of the access to weapons.”
Mr Valls had been due in the city to hail the “excellent” results of a crime crackdown in France’s second-largest city.
The shooting in Marseille comes as a senior French official said the country was stepping up its efforts to combat extremism.
In response to the threat posed by returning jihadis, the president of the French National Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, said France is ramping up security.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, she said the measures included reinforcing border inspection and setting up hotlines.
“We estimate that about 1,300 French people or residents in France have been concerned by going back and forth to Syria or to Iraq, so that’s quite a lot of people to keep an eye on,” said Ms Guigou.