‘She Thought She Was Going To Die’ – French Stars And Wealthy Terrorized in Wave of Violent Home-jackings

by State Brief

Celebrities are being targeted across France in an unprecedented wave of “home-jackings,” which are burglaries accompanied by violence and kidnapping. The cases often involve “youths” recruited by experienced ringleaders, such as Kamel Z., who keep their distance from their criminal underlings to insulate themselves from any prosecution.

The country has a history of these violent home invasions, but recent months have seen an explosion of such cases, including well-known French figures, such as Vitaa, Bruno Guillon, Jean-François Piège, Anne-Sophie Lapix, and Nikos Aliagas.

2023 marks a new milestone

In a special television report by BFMTV, the French news outlet reviewed the most recent cases. On July 21, 2023, a gang broke into the Paris home of PSG’s Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and his partner, with the perpetrators tying up and stripping both victims. Then, on Sept. 27, the same type of home invasion, with the victims also being stripped, occurred against Bruno Guillon in the Paris region. Guillon, a host on French TV, was threatened with a handgun while his wife was tied up, gagged, and threatened with a hammer. Their 14-year-old son was also tied up inside his room and clamped in place.

On Dec. 18, the home of Alexandre Letelier, who serves as the backup goalkeeper for PSG, was invaded. Both he and his partner were threatened with death in front of their two children, aged two and six. Just two days later, on Dec. 20, the singer Vitaa was kidnapped, along with her husband and three children, after being targeted inside their home in Rueil-Malmaison. 

Just a few weeks later, on Feb. 6, 2024, a team broke into Aya Nakumra’s home in Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris. They beat him to the point of hospitalization and robbed his residence. 

Other celebrities, such as Nikos Alliagas, a Greek-French entertainer and journalist, as well as journalist Anne-Sophie Lapix, have also been targeted by burglary teams, but those attempts were foiled. 

As BMFTV reports, many of these celebrities are targeted due to their presence on social media, where they show off their luxury watches, handbags, and other items. 

“They are known for having money and property,” said Laurent Nuñez, the Paris police chief. “You just have to follow certain Facebook or Instagram profiles. We find a lot of information, both about the property held by future victims, and then obviously on their addresses and lifestyle.”

Once the information has been collected, the criminals can take action. In most cases, they “pose as a fake deliveryman, from La Poste or Amazon (…) with a parcel in hand,” explains Djassim Belkourchia, a delegate of the Alliance Police Nationale union.

“Committing a home-jacking in the presence of the occupants often allows them to ask for information on the whereabouts of the goods that are sought, jewelry, luxury watches or computer equipment,” estimates Laurent Nuñez.

France powerless to stop the crimes

Although these crimes have picked up steam in recent months, they have long plagued France. In July 2021, Guillaume Pley, a television presenter, learned that his wife and son, along with their nanny, had been victims of a violent house-jacking while he was flying to the Cannes Film Festival.

In that case, three men barged into the house when the mother, Agathe, had opened the door expecting the nanny.

They pointed a gun at her son’s head, and told Agathe, “If you make any noise, you know what will happen.” 

“It’s difficult for a mother, it’s a scene that she won’t forget,” he said about the incident.

The burglars were looking for a luxury watch they had seen the French host wearing on social media, but he had the watch on him during his flight.

“She thought she was going to die because they were very hard on her when they couldn’t find the safe. It made them a little crazy,” he said.

The burglars fled with a counterfeit version of the watch worth a few hundred euros.

Most of the criminals are minors

Following the home invasion of Guillon, two minors and two others who were barely adults were arrested.

“What characterizes the profile of these young perpetrators is that they are essentially all minors. They are perfectly known to the police and justice for acts of violence (…) sometimes even violence with drug trafficking weapons, and they have already been condemned by the judicial authorities,” said Philippe Franchet, the commissioner of the Versailles banditry repression police unit.

However, despite participating in these high-profile crimes, many of these youths have little experience with home-jackings. In most cases, they are recruited by professionals, such as the 27-year-old Kamel Z., who is well known to police and has seven convictions. 

He is accused of recruiting young men across Paris, and in many cases, he pays them just a few thousand euros. These underlings do not know each other and often know very little about their targets. 

“They already have some experience in the world of banditry and police techniques. They think they will protect themselves from investigations and criminal liability by using young people who are a little less experienced,” explains Philippe Franchet. 

Kamel Z. has been indicted for home-jacking at Bruno Guillon’s house, but investigators are also exploring his role in other violent house-jackings.

The BFMTV report notes that these home-jackings are not just targeting celebrities, but also families with no public-facing role. The Merlin family, for instance, was targeted in Calais in April 2023. The mother, Aurelie, was confronted while sleeping on the sofa by a man wearing a white mask and a black hood. 

“He started hitting me in the face. I was so paralyzed that I didn’t even feel the blows. I was not in pain, but I could feel the blood starting to flow down my cheek. He hit me again, he asked me for money and he ran away,” says the mother.

She described it as a traumatic event that has left her checking her windows every night out of fear someone could slip into the house.

One psychologist described these home-jackings as one of the most traumatic crimes anyone can experience.

“It’s someone who enters into their private space… The victim is marked in her mind, she knows that this is where the trauma took place and for her, to go back to rebuild herself, she needs to turn the page and therefore change homes very often,” said Marjorie Sueur, a psychologist.

In many cases, the victims are advised to change their homes and start over someplace else.

Home security sales soaring

The brutal crime often leaves many families with trauma, involving both physical and mental scars. Such cases are not just hitting the wealthy and famous either, but ordinary French citizens dealt with over 210,000 home burglaries last year, with a third of these cases occurring while the family was still home.

Now, the sale of home security systems is soaring, with France inching towards a state of insecurity often seen in countries like South Africa and Brazil. 

One businessman involved in the sale of home security systems says that in the five years he has been in the business, he has never been so profitable. 

“More and more, people are calling on me for preventive measures (…). We have seen 300 percent more turnover since the start of the year compared to the year before. If we are generalizing, that says a lot about the context in France. The risk of face-to-face confrontation (with burglars) has never been so great,” he said while appearing on the Europe 1 television channel.

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