The death threats came a week after officers of the anti-criminal brigade, or BAC, shot dead a gang member during a casino hold up, sparking several nights of riots in the troubled French suburban housing estate of La Villeneuve where he lived.
Police came under real gunfire as they tried to quell the violence.
A local police source said: “These (threats) are targeting this service in general and certain colleagues in particular. One could call them contracts.
They are coming from people from mafia circles who consider the BAC a rival gang”.
He said many of the officers have been working in the area for years, are known to local troublemakers by name and their personal car number plates are even tagged on walls in La Villeneuve.
Last Friday, all policemen in France received a text message, believed to be from local officers, reading: “BAC-Grenoble staff have been put on forced leave by the (local government) prefect and obliged to leave the region with their wives and children.
“As the BAC was involved in the armed criminal’s death, the word is that his friends (say) his death will only be avenged with the death of a BACman, by rocket launcher if necessary”.
Information gleaned from phone taps and local informants suggested the men’s lives were at imminent risk. As a result, the interior ministry put most of the town’s 45 BAC officers on leave or had them relocated. They were replaced by police from Lyons and Marseilles, along with a contingent of elite officers.
Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister, said: “We have taken steps and precautions to shelter these policemen and their families These death threats are totally repugnant but very real.” An investigation has been launched to trace source of the threats.
Daniel Chomette, spokesman for the local SGP-FO police union, said: “These people are capable of anything we saw that in the nights (of rioting) as they came out of the crowd unmasked with hand guns and shot at police vehicles.
“As long as those who ordered the contracts are not put out of harm’s way and a certain number of weapons still circulating are not seized, people must be protected.”
Security has been beefed up around the local police station, following reports it could come under rocket attack.
France is still getting over the trauma of nationwide suburban riots in 2005 and each new flare up sparks fears of wider unrest.