MARSEILLE, France June 10 – French police have reportedly had to use tear gas on English fans in Marseille after violent clashes broke out when supporters started singing: ‘ISIS, where are you?’.
Riot police used tear gas and baton charges after fighting broke out beside two bars where hundreds of supporters had spent Thursday drinking in the French city’s Old Port area.
Local French youths are thought to have attacked England supporters who had massed outside the Queen Victoria pub, and O’Malley’s, an Irish bar next door, before England’s first group game of Euro 2016 against Russia on Saturday.
Marseille is a port city with a strong Islamic community. It is believed Muslims make up a third of the population, but it not known if religious tensions caused the fight.
“They were baiting us, and then attacked,” said one fan from Leeds, who asked to be named solely as Simon.
“None of the England fans were doing anything wrong a few of us had a bit much to drink, but that was all. Suddenly a French gang appeared and started attacking us, and throwing stuff. We had to defend ourselves, and then the police showed up.”
Groups of fans were then seen running in different directions, as restaurants and bars in the area quickly shut doors and pulled down shutters.
At least one England fan could be seen lying in a pool of blood, apparently having been knocked out. Others spoke of their fear as they were targeted by youths brandishing makeshift weapons, and shouting ‘Get the English’.
Chris Lord, another England fan from London, said: “This was a really nasty attack. The gang knew exactly where we were, and clearly wanted to hurt us.”
As well as riot police, undercover officers brandishing stun guns and telescopic truncheons picked off anybody behaving badly. Police first responded to the violence at around 11.45pm, and by midnight ambulances were arriving.
It was all a grim replay of the violence in 1998 which happened before and after England’s 1998 World Cup tie with Tunisia in Marseille.
Then, scores of people were hurt, more than 100 were arrested or deported and some England supporters were later jailed. By the early hours today, police had blocked off roads around the Old Port, using dogs and vans to stop traffic getting through.
Meanwhile, gangs of local thugs could be seen taunting England fans who were trying to get back to hotels. British football fans are risking an unprecedented security threat in France this week from hooliganism and terrorism.
It follows warnings from a range of security agencies, ranging from the U.S. State Department to French police that Islamic State terrorists are planning to strike.
Marseille commander Laurent Nunez said the Three Lions ‘opening match against Russia on Saturday was also ‘a particularly high risk’ as fire as football-related violence was concerned.
France remains under a State of Emergency following last November’s attack, with thousands of soldiers joining police on the streets.
On Sunday, French President Francois Hollande said that the threat of trouble would not stop the European Championships from being successful.
Mr Hollande said a 90,000 strong security force, including soldiers, would ensure the matches being played in 10 cities will be safe.
The England team is due to arrive in Marseille on Friday, and will stay in a city hotel before Saturday’s game. Some 70,000 England fans many without tickets are expected to be in the city over the weekend.