MARSEILLE, France — Though it was almost midnight, streets were full of Muslim families taking a stroll after breaking the Ramadan fast with a late dinner. As two police officers drove by a storefront recycled as the Grand Sunna Mosque, they noticed a woman wearing flowing black robes and a full-face veil.
The police officers alighted from their patrol car and challenged the woman about her veil, which has been illegal in France since April 2011. After an angry exchange, police said later, the woman shouted that she would not abide by the anti-veil law, and a youth told police that they had no business patrolling the neighborhood and accosting its predominantly Muslim residents.
The confrontation quickly escalated into a shoving match, with several dozen young bystanders joining in and carloads of police reinforcements speeding up to lend a hand. Before long, it erupted into what was described in the National Assembly in Paris as a riot, during which a female police officer was bitten on the arm and two of her male colleagues were bashed and bruised.
The sudden clash, which took place July 24 in Marseille, was the most serious instance of resistance to the veil ban during its 16 months of enforcement, according to police. Although it subsided almost as quickly as it flared, the outburst focused national attention on simmering resentment over the ban among France’s most militant and tradition-minded Muslims.