By dusk Friday, the streets of Sevran were deserted. Inside high-rise apartments and stone cottages here on the outskirts of Paris, residents waited for the explosions and sirens to begin.
"Last night I thought I was in Baghdad, not somewhere in France," said Nabila Chaibi, a 22-year-old sales clerk, her angular face swathed in a white head scarf. Her eyes displayed the fatigue of a sleepless night.
Sevran is at the epicenter of violence that has convulsed many of the poor immigrant areas in Paris's northern suburbs for nine days. After the sun set Friday night, the violence resumed, with youths setting fire to two buildings, including a bakery, and 10 cars in the northern community of Val d'Oise, police reported.
Night after night, youths armed with rocks, sticks and gasoline bombs have confronted police and set cars, businesses, government buildings and schools on fire. Police officers said Friday that approximately 1,260 vehicles had been torched in the Paris area in the past week, including 23 buses parked in a depot near Versailles.
The worst unrest in France in recent years has paralyzed the government, setting senior officials bickering over how to curb the violence. President Jacques Chirac has not publicly addressed the country other than to issue a statement through his spokesman appealing for calm.
The attacks have underscored anger and frustration among immigrants and their French-born children who inhabit the country's largest and poorest slum areas. A large percentage of this population is Muslim, and Islamic neighborhood groups have been trying to dissuade young people from taking part in the rioting.
Thursday night into Friday morning, the violence spread to other parts of France for the first time. Attacks and fires were reported in Normandy on the northwest coast, Dijon in the central Burgundy region and Provence in the far south.
The attacks were triggered when two Muslim teenagers were electrocuted last week after they leapt into a power substation in an attempt to evade a police who had set up an identity checkpoint. Several dozen policemen and assailants have since been injured in street fighting, but no further deaths have been reported.
Still, some of the violence has been devastating. On Wednesday night, youths firebombed a bus here with the passengers inside. As the last passenger, a 56-year-old woman, descended the steps on crutches, an assailant splashed her with gasoline and another threw a flaming rag at her, according to residents and police reports. The driver put out the flames and rushed her to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with second- and third-degree burns.
"The last two nights, there was panic everywhere," said Bekkay Merzak, a leader of the Islamic organization in Sevran. "People didn't know what was happening outside their own buildings. When they left a car out, they didn't know what they would find in the morning."
The French government has deployed 1,300 riot police in the streets of troubled communities. It has dispatched firefighters from around the Paris region to relieve their suburban counterparts, exhausted from the nightly demands of chasing hundreds of blazes.
Some politicians and police unions have urged the government to declare a state of emergency or impose curfews on the communities that have been hit hardest.
The riots have not touched popular tourist sites in Paris. But the road and rail line that many foreign visitors use to travel between the city and Charles de Gaulle International Airport slice through the most troubled districts.
Two trains connecting Paris and the airport were attacked Thursday, prompting engineers to run only one in five trains on Friday, rail officials said. The U.S. Embassy warned travelers Friday against taking trains to the airport, calling conditions in the troubled areas "extremely violent."
Almost every exit sign off the A1 highway to the airport identifies a town that has been the scene of nightly attacks.
Just off the highway, in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a businessman in a gray suit on Friday picked through the rubble of a Renault car dealership that is now a blackened hulk, its shattered showroom windows exposing the charred frames of latest-model automobiles.
The next exit pointed to Le Blanc-Mesnil, where 17-year-old Geraldine Marie-Reine stood gazing at the ruins of the community gymnasium where she played as a child. "It's a public place," said Marie-Reine, who was born in the West Indies. "It belongs to everybody."
She said some of the youths who burned the building were former classmates who had also played there as children. "I know them," she said. "Seeing it destroyed by other youths hurts."
She narrowed her eyes at two teenage boys who sauntered past. She nodded, silently mouthing the French word for "them."
Nearer the airport, black smoke mixed with low-hanging gray clouds as firefighters battled a blaze set 13 hours earlier at a warehouse filled with paint, flooring and wall materials.
In Sevran, about halfway between Paris and the airport, Muslim leaders have been meeting inside a former supermarket that is now the Grand Mosque of Sevran. There, they are plotting a strategy to curb the violence in a town of 47,000 people where a large percentage of the population is Muslim.
Bekkay Merzak, secretary general of the Sevran Muslim Cultural Association, said he feared the rioting was damaging the image of Muslims generally. The rampaging youths are "harming Islam and themselves," Merzak said. "They don't know their own religion."
Each day, Merzak dispatches a cadre of young volunteers door to door to plead the association's case: Young people, stay away from the violence; parents, keep your children in the house at night.
"I talk about how our religion condemns these acts," said Amin Benabderradname, 25, who had a thick black beard and wore an embroidered white cap on his shaved head. During his rounds on Wednesday, he said, he encountered several teenagers filling two large sacks with rocks for the coming night. Benabderradname said he persuaded them to surrender their weapons to him.
Many youths in Sevran and elsewhere have pursued a dangerous nightly game of hide-and-seek with police officers and firefighters. Police said the attackers' tactics began shifting Thursday night, with fewer incidents of large gangs confronting police and more incidents of small, fast-moving teams setting fires.
Sevran residents said the attackers would ignite one car, and then, before firefighters could douse the flames, move on to torch another vehicle several streets away. Their mobility leaves remnants of destruction scattered throughout the city.
Muslim leaders who have been talking with young rioters say that many are driven by anger at the government over the neglect of the housing projects, where unemployment and crime are rampant. A statement by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy that rioters were "scum" particularly incensed many of them.
They are also frustrated at job and social discrimination against the neighborhoods' residents, many of whom were born in France to immigrant parents.
While many residents share the indignation of the young people, they are expressing increasing anger at what the rioters are doing. Many of the burned-out cars and businesses are owned by local people. The loss of government facilities lowers the quality of life.
"Fed up!" read the headline in Friday's suburban editions of the newspaper Le Parisien. Religious, business, civic and government leaders in several of the hardest-hit towns, including Sevran, are planning demonstrations this weekend to protest the violence and appeal to the youths to stop.