A 35-year-old Egyptian migrant died on Wednesday evening after being struck by a bullet fired by French police. The van he was traveling in rammed through immigration controls at the border, said French prosecutors.
A 35-year-old Egyptian man died on Wednesday in the early evening, the deputy public prosecutor in Nice, Parvine Derivery, confirmed.
According to reports, the man had been traveling in a van that rammed its way through immigration controls at the Italian border. Italian authorities then warned their French counterparts that a van was traveling near the French village of Sospel and was likely to be carrying migrants without papers.
French border police chased the van after the driver refused to stop. During the chase, a second French police team intervened 30 kilometers away, the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported. This team said that the van had accelerated in its direction, prompting a police officer to use his weapon four times to stop the vehicle.
The van was later found abandoned in Nice after the driver and two passengers fled the scene. When police arrived, five migrants, including the Egyptian man, were still inside the truck. He had been injured by a bullet to the head. None of the other migrants was injured.
According to French reports, the van the migrants were traveling in was a refrigerated vehicle. The Egyptian man had been sitting towards the back of the vehicle. He was quickly transferred to hospital, where he later died.
The police officer suspected of having fired the fatal shot has been placed in custody and is being interrogated as part of the investigation into the shooting. According to the deputy prosecutor, the inquiry will examine the charges of involuntary manslaughter. The police officer in question has said he acted in self-defense in response to "imminent danger."
Nice’s mayor, Christian Estrosi, tweeted his support for the police, saying their safety was also important. "Obviously I deplore the injuries in this case, but they came about as the result of a criminal act, which the police were forced to try to stop in order to avoid further tragedies."
The Roya valley, where the van had been traveling, is one of the favored crossing points for migrants and migrant smugglers, along with the high Alps, between Italy and France. According to associations working with migrants in the area, at least 30 migrants have died on the Italian-French border since 2015.
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Impact from two bullets identified
The local newspaper Nice-Matin reported on the incident, saying the van carrying the migrants had been attempting to cross during the night from Tuesday into Wednesday. French prosecutors said there had been two bullet impacts on the van: the first in the front at the level of the headlights, and the second above the rear tire. This one had pierced through the refrigerated container.
According to Nice-Matin, two inquiries have now been opened – to track down the alleged smugglers who kept the migrants in a situation which was "incompatible with human dignity," and to charge them with failing to stop, conduct endangering life, and attempted murder of police officers. The second inquiry will look at whether the officer who allegedly fired the shots can legitimately claim self defense.
This is not the first fatal shooting incident involving French police in recent months. At the beginning of June, a driver refused to comply with a stop and search request in Paris and police opened fire, killing one of the passengers, a woman, in the car.
On April 24, just after French President Emmanuel Macron was reelected, police shot dead two men, reports AFP, "who sped past them in the car in the hope of evading checks."