PARIS (AP) — Two prison guards were seriously injured Friday by inmates on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, an attack that threatened to further ignite national protests by prison guards who are demanding more security, more staff and safer handling of violent inmates.
Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet immediately traveled to the Borgo prison in northern Corsica where the attack took place. Justice Ministry officials, meanwhile, were meeting Friday evening with union representatives after the Workers' Force union, which is leading the protests, called on guards around the country to "put down their keys," or walk off the job, in the days ahead.
Guards at 11 French prisons reportedly already walked off the job on Friday, Emmanuel Baudin, head of the prisons arm of the Workers Force Union, told BFM TV.
Guards at 80 of France's 188 prisons were taking part on Friday in blockages — ranging from work slowdowns to protests, according to a Penitentiary Administration official. He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The two guards at Borgo were hospitalized in serious condition and four inmates, including one suspected of being radicalized, were arrested after gendarmes moved in to secure the prison, the official said. At least one "sharp-pointed" weapon was used in the attack, he said.
The guards' lives were not in danger but Belloubet said their mental and physical states were worrisome.
The attack was the latest by inmates on guards at prisons across France. In four of five prison attacks by inmates in just over a week, at least one of the inmates was radicalized or suspected of being so.
"For several years ... there are all the ingredients so that a crisis this important explodes," said Adeline Hazan, the controller general of the French prison system, whose job is to ensure inmates' rights.
She listed problems like prison overcrowding, too few guards and the "difficult and complex management" of prisoners who have been radicalized. Speaking on BFM TV, Hazan said there are currently 70,000 prisoners for 60,000 prison places.
The national protest by prison guards was launched after an Islamic radical inmate wanted by the United States attacked three guards with a knife at a high-security prison in northern France last week.
Authorities say the attack at Vendin-le-Vieil was carried out by Christian Ganczarski, a German who converted to Islam and was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in a 2002 attack on a synagogue in Tunisia that left 21 people dead.
Ganczarski, 51, is also suspected by the United States of providing critical support to Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks. He was charged Wednesday in a Manhattan federal court with conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists. The United States is expected to ask France to extradite him.
In France, Ganczarski was given new preliminary charges of attempted murder following the knife attack. He was also transferred to another prison in northern France, according to Guillaume Pottier, a prison union leader.
The Prison Administration official said attacks against guards by inmates are not uncommon, with 4,000 last year. He insisted that the recent attacks this week are not linked to the guards' protests, in which guards have pushed back against riot police and shouted down the justice minister.
In response to the protests, President Emmanuel Macron on Monday ordered the government to come up with a "global penitentiary plan" by the end of February that would modernize French facilities and prison intelligence-gathering. He also suggested a "massive" shift to alternative punishment such as obligatory public service or electronic bracelets.