What we know about the shooting of teenager Nahel M in France

The 17-year-old died after being shot at point-blank range by a police officer on Tuesday morning

A protester waves a flare from a road sign during a march after the shooting of Nahel, 17. Bloomberg
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Riots have rocked France for a sixth night following the shooting of a 17-year-old by police during a traffic stop.

Nahel M, of Algerian and Moroccan parents, was shot in the chest at point-blank range by an officer on Tuesday morning, sparking successive nights of violent protests, which have resulted in thousands of arrests.

Here is everything we know about why the police killed the teenager, an only child, and what has happened since.

Why did police shoot Nahel M?

The Nanterre prosecutor, Pascal Prache, said officers tried to stop Nahel because he looked "so young" and was spotted driving a Mercedes with Polish licence plates in a bus lane at 7.55am.

He allegedly ran a red light to avoid being stopped then got stuck in traffic. Both officers involved said they drew their guns to prevent him from fleeing.

The officer, who fired a single shot, said he had feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car, said the prosecutor. The officers said they felt “threatened” as the car drove off.

The prosecutor said Nahel was known to police for previously failing to comply with traffic stop orders and was illegally driving a rental car.

Police initially reported that the officer shot at the teenager, who was of North African descent, at point-blank range on Tuesday because he was driving his car at him.

But a video that emerged on social media shows two policemen standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver. A voice is heard saying “You are going to get a bullet in the head.”

The police officer then appears to fire at point-blank range as the car drives off.

The car travels a few dozen metres before crashing.

Police and paramedics tried to resuscitate Nahel but he was declared dead at 9.15am, Mr Prache said.

France endures third night of riots after police shoot teenager

France endures third night of riots after police shoot teenager

What have Nahel's family said?

"I lost a child of 17, they took my baby," said his mother, Mounia, in a TikTok video. She said the pair had left the house at the same time; he was going to McDonald’s and she went to work.

"He was still a child, he needed his mother. This morning he gave me a big kiss and told me he loved me. I told him be careful and I loved him.

"I only had him. I didn't have 10 like him. He was my life, my best friend. He was my son, he was my everything."

She late told the France 5 channel: "I don't blame the police, I blame one person: the one who took the life of my son."

She said the 38-year-old officer responsible "saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life".

Nahel's funeral was held on Saturday near Nanterre, the Paris suburb where he lived and was shot dead.

Several hundred people lined up to enter Nanterre's grand mosque. Volunteers in yellow vests stood guard, while a few dozen bystanders watched from across the street.

Some of the mourners, their arms crossed, said "God is Greatest" in Arabic, as they spanned the boulevard in prayer.

The event was marked by "reflection" and went off "without incident", a witness told agencies.

On Sunday, his grandmother appealed for calm, telling BFM TV: "Stop and do not riot", and saying that the rioters were only using his death as a "pretext".

"I tell the people who are rioting this: Do not smash windows, attack schools or buses. Stop. It's the mums who are taking the bus, it's the mums who walk outside," she said.

What has happened since?

The incident immediately sparked riots.

The unrest has spread far and wide, to Pau, Marseille, Lyon and even French territories overseas, where a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet in French Guiana over the weekend.

Tens of thousands of police have been deployed each night in France to try to quell the violence.

Over the weekend a southern suburb of Paris, rioters set a fire and rammed a car into a mayor's home, injuring his wife and one of his children.

And overnight into Monday a fireman died outside Paris trying to douse vehicles set ablaze during riots.

The 24-year-old was fighting a fire which had engulfed several vehicles in an underground car park in the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, north of the capital, officials said.

Tensions appeared to have eased in recent days, with just 157 arrests as of 1.30am on Monday, down from a peak of 3,880 on Friday night.

Has anything like this happened before?

In 2005 two boys of African origin died during a police chase, sparking a wave of violent protests which led to the arrest of around 6,000 people.

Nahel's death has revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France's low-income and multi-ethnic suburbs.

Jacques Maillard, a political scientist specialising in the French police, told Le Monde on Friday there were parallels to the 2005 riots, but that the government's approach to them had changed.

"The judicial powers reacted firmly with an indictment and custody," he said, of the response to Nahel's murder.

"The political response was also clear: Nicolas Sarkozy, who was French Minister of Interior [in 2005], took a lot of distance from the victims and stood by the police line. This time, the executive power showed compassion for the victim and his family, and took a critical stance to towards the police office," he added.

Riots in France - in pictures

On Friday, the UN said France must address deep issues of racial discrimination among its police.

"We are concerned by the killing of a 17-year-old of North African descent by police in France... this is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement," UN human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a media briefing in Geneva.

What has happened to the officer who shot him?

The 38-year-old police officer has acknowledged firing a lethal shot at the teenager and was on Thursday charged with voluntary homicide. He is being held in preventive detention.

His lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed down towards the driver's leg but was bumped, causing him to shoot towards his chest. "Obviously (the officer) didn't want to kill the driver," Mr Lienard said on BFM TV.

Mr Lienard said his client apologised as he was taken into custody.

"The first words he pronounced were to say sorry, and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family," he said.

A crowdfunding appeal for the policeman, set up by Jean Messiha, a member of far-right political party National Rally, raised more than €1 million as of Monday afternoon. It has been widely criticised.

The grandmother of Nahel said "heart is in pain" to learn about the fundraiser.

Laurent Nunez, prefect of Paris Police, refused to comment.

What has the French President said?

Emmanuel Macron, who described Nahel’s death as “inexplicable and unforgivable”, has called on parents to keep teenage rioters off the streets.

Mr Macron also wants the most “sensitive content” removed from social media, saying it is fuelling copycat violence.

“I call on all parents to take responsibility,” he said after an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss how to end the unrest.

The French government has so far stopped short of declaring a state of emergency – a measure taken in 2005 after weeks of rioting throughout France that followed the accidental death of two boys fleeing police.

Mr Macron plans to meet with the heads of both houses of parliament on Monday and with the mayors of 220 towns and cities affected by the protests on Tuesday.

He also plans to start a detailed, longer-term assessment of the reasons that led to the unrest, according to an official.

Updated: July 03, 2023, 1:51 PM