Three men died Sunday in an assault rifle attack in the French port city of Marseille, which has seen a surge of drug-related gang murders in recent months, police said.
The three were part of a group of five men in their 20s who left a nightclub shortly after 5:00 am (0300 GMT) and were driving away when their car was attacked by unknown men with Kalashnikov rifles, they said.
The two survivors of the attack -- which took place in a residential neighbourhood of Marseille, France's second-biggest city -- were unharmed and fled the scene, as did the shooters.
Police found a burning car nearby, but would not confirm immediately whether it was the gunmen's getaway car.
The torched car would, however, be consistent with previous drug-related killings in Marseille where the perpetrators often set their vehicles ablaze to destroy any evidence.
Early indications were that the men who were attacked lived in a council estate with a high incidence of drug trafficking and were known to police, according to a source close to the investigation.
Regional prefect Frederique Camilleri told reporters at the scene that "the entire police force has been mobilised to find the perpetrators of these despicable crimes and to dismantle the networks of the traffickers behind this violence".
This weekend alone, police had arrested five people for possession of firearms linked to the drugs trade, and seized three Kalashnikov assault rifles, a submachine gun and a handgun, she said.
The latest attack brings the number of drug-related homicides in Marseille since the start of the year to 21, according to an AFP count.
The victims are typically young men low in the hierarchy of drug gangs, and targeted by killers working for rival gangs.
Camilleri and the city's chief prosecutor Dominique Laurens had already warned last month that competition between rival organisation for control of the city's most lucrative drug-dealing spots was turning into a "vendetta".
That statement came after a night of violence early April when three people were killed by gunfire, including a 16-year old, and eight people injured in the shootings.
Laurens said at the time that there was a worsening "blood bath" in Marseille and predicted that it would "continue in the coming months".
Special police forces were deployed at key drug flashpoints in the city following that killing spree.
Marseille's mayor Benoit Payan said this month that "this war has been going on for too long" and called on the French government to act "in a firm and strong way" to stop the violence.
"The killers don't even bother to hide anymore," Payan said.
© Agence France-Presse
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