On Sunday evening Nov. 25 in Villiers-le-Bel, an immigrant suburb to the north of Paris, two youths steal a motorbike and go joyriding. They collide at high speed with a police vehicle that just happens to be passing by. The two youths die on the spot. Villiers-le-Bel is one of France's 751 "zones urbaines sensibles" (sensitive urban areas). These are no-go zones where radical Muslims hold sway. Almost 5 million people, or 8 percent of the French population, live in such zones. In May, Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidential elections with the promise that he was going to reclaim them for the republic.
So far the "lost territories" have not been reclaimed. Following the death of the two boys, youths went on the rampage in Villiers-le-Bel. They blamed the two policemen in the vehicle for "murdering" the boys "because the police should not have been there." During three nights of rioting, several police stations, schools and shops were burned to the ground. When the authorities sent in the police, almost 200 policemen got injured – many of them by guns.
"We were attacked from all sides by youths armed with hunting rifles," one of the officers said. "The kids were shooting at us. I've never seen anything like it. It was like in a movie."
Meanwhile, a horror movie was taking place just around the corner. On that same Sunday evening, 43-year-old Thierry Deve-Oglou, a Frenchman of Turkish origin, went to the metro station near Villiers-le-Bel, the very area where the rioting was going on. He boarded the RER D, the metro line connecting Paris to its northern suburbs. Mr. Deve-Oglou took the train in the northern direction, away from Paris.
The suburban metro is generally considered unsafe, and the D line is one of the most dangerous, especially beyond Garges, the station after Villiers-le-Bel. "There are no guards and no surveillance cameras," a metro employee acknowledges. "After Garges there are hardly any passengers left on the train. It is then that the acts of aggression begin."
Mr. Deve-Oglou noticed that the metro carriage was empty except for a young blond woman whom he there and then decided to rape. He had done this before, in January 1995, on the same RER D line, in the same place. Then, however, his victim had not dared to resist. She survived the attack and was able to testify at his trial the following year when he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
This time, however, the victim fought back. Anne-Lorraine Schmitt, a 23-year-old journalism student and the eldest of five children from a Catholic and patriotic family – her father, Philippe, is an army colonel – tried to escape. Mr. Deve-Oglou stabbed her. She managed to hurt him with his own knife, but he butchered her with more than 30 stab wounds in the chest and face.
Mr. Deve-Oglou left the train carriage at the next metro station, but police officers noticed the bleeding man and took him to the hospital. When half an hour later Anne-Lorraine's body was discovered in the empty carriage at the RER D terminus in Creil, it was not difficult to find the killer. He was arrested the same evening. Soon the police was able to solve similar rapes on the same line D during the previous years.
Why had the police never questioned this serial rapist before? Why had he been released after his first conviction? The question haunts Philippe Schmitt. "The circumstances of Anne-Lorraine's death are devastating to us," he writes. "We do not dare to imagine the 'horror movie' that took place inside that closed car of the RER, line D. Why was such an individual, already convicted of sexual assaults, able to repeat his crime? In 5, 10, 15 years, everyone knows he will be free again."
Frederic Pons, the editor of Valeurs Actuelles, a magazine where Anne-Lorraine had worked as an intern, wrote on the magazine's blog: "When will this rapist with his knife leave prison? After 8, 10, 15 years? Our society must pluck up the courage to remove him from society once and for all. If we do not do this the fathers, the brothers, the uncles will. In the name of justified violence."
The next day Mr. Pons removed his post from his blog. His text was deemed an incitement to violence. It is taboo in Europe to say that if the state fails to protect the citizens, the citizens should do so themselves. There is no Second Amendment in Europe. Even European politicians from the so-called "right," like Mr. Sarkozy, are horrified at the suggestion that citizens should be allowed to protect themselves against criminals. Last year, Mr. Sarkozy told French radio: "Security is the responsibility of the state. I am against the private ownership of firearms. If you are assaulted by an armed burglar, he will use his weapon more effectively than you anyway, so you are risking your life."
The result is that in France only the criminals are armed, while decent citizens, even those as brave as Anne-Lorraine, perish.
This piece was originally published in The Washington Times on December 5, 2007 .