All you need to know about the French teenager whose death at hands of police triggered chaos

The death of a teenager at the hands of police in France has triggered days of violent protests across the country.

Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent, was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Here is what is currently known about him.

What is known about him so far

According to the French newspaper Le Parisien, Nahel was living with his mother, Mounia, in the Vieux-Pont neighborhood of Nanterre, which is approximately 15km from central Paris. In 2021, he had enrolled in an electrical qualification course at the Louis Bleriot high school in the nearby town of Suresnes.

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Nahel was also involved with the Pirates of Nanterre rugby club and participated in an integration program run by an association called Ovale Citoyen, which supports teenagers facing difficulties in school. Ovale Citoyen president Jeff Puech described Nahel as someone who had dropped out of school but was not involved in serious criminal activities, stating that he had aspirations for a better future.

The rugby club paid tribute to Nahel on Facebook, referring to him as a member of their family and expressing their grief. In addition, Nahel appeared in a music video for the Marseille rapper Jul’s song “Ragnar,” which was uploaded to YouTube in May.

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Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M, told France 5 television earlier this week that she was angry at the accused officer rather than at police in general. “He saw a little, Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life,” she said.

“A police officer cannot take his gun and fire at our children, take our children’s lives.”

The shooting, captured on video, has sparked renewed outcry over police violence and racism in marginalized urban communities, where such complaints have long been present. French President Emmanuel Macron has denied the existence of systemic racism within French law enforcement agencies.

Nahel’s funeral took place on Saturday, with hundreds of people gathering at Nanterre’s grand mosque to pay their respects. The mosque was guarded by volunteers wearing yellow vests, while onlookers watched from across the street.

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The officer responsible for shooting Nahel has been formally investigated for voluntary homicide and is currently in preventive detention. In the French legal system, being placed under formal investigation is similar to being charged in the UK.

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