LOPEZ PIERREFITTE-SUR-SEINE, France - A Roma teenager was fighting for his life Tuesday after a lynching by a mob who accused him of burglary in a suburb outside the French capital, a police source said.
The 16-year-old was found unconscious in a supermarket trolley on Friday after being beaten by a dozen residents of a rough government housing estate north of Paris.
The teenager, who lived with his family and other Roma in a squalid camp sprung up around an abandoned house, was accused of breaking into an apartment in the estate just hours earlier.
"A group of several people came to find him and take him away by force," said a police source speaking on condition of anonymity, adding the boy was then locked in a basement where he was violently beaten.
Another source close to the case said about "a dozen people" took part in the attack. It was the boy's mother who alerted police that her son had been kidnapped.
A judicial source, also requesting anonymity, said the boy's "life is in danger. He is in a coma." Michel Fourcade, the mayor of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, the town where the attack took place, said the boy had been questioned by police several times this month in connection with a string of robberies in the housing project.
This had fuelled anger towards the Roma, an ethnic minority also known as Gypsies, whose presence in illegal camps on the fringes of towns and cities has often spurred controversy in France.
Ion Vardu, who lives next to the Roma camp, said some 200 members of the traditionally nomadic community had arrived "three weeks ago." On Monday the camp lay abandoned, rubbish, clothing and mattresses strewn in the garden after the Roma's rapid departure following the attack on the teenager.
"They left immediately," said Vardu.
The head of the district council Stephane Troussel condemned a "heinous attack in the guise of vengeance." "The French republic owes protection to everyone, no matter where they live and what their origin." Rights organisations have warned against a rise in violence against the Roma in France, where they are often stigmatised and accused of being behind a rise of petty crime.
SOS Racism said the attack was the "obvious result of nauseating tensions faced by our fellow citizens." "We expect a radical change in discourse and an extremely clear denunciation of the violence they are facing," said Benjamin Abtan, head of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM).
France has also faced mounting criticism over its treatment of the Roma minority, having evicted a record 19,380 members of the community from camps in 2013.
The issue gained international attention and sparked protests after a 15-year-old Roma girl was taken by authorities during a school trip in October and deported along with her family to Kosovo.