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French police hunt killers behind prison van ambush

President Emmanuel Macron expressed shock over the prison van ambush
President Emmanuel Macron expressed shock over the prison van ambush - Copyright POOL/AFP Hannah McKay
President Emmanuel Macron expressed shock over the prison van ambush - Copyright POOL/AFP Hannah McKay
Matthieu Clavel with Stuart Williams in Paris

French police were on Wednesday hunting for a group of gunmen who killed two prison officers in an attack at a motorway toll that freed a convict linked to gangland drug killings.

The killings and dramatic getaway by the perpetrators have shocked France, with authorities under pressure to catch those responsible, who all remain at large.

“We have put a lot of resources into finding not only the person who escaped”, but also “the gang that released him under such despicable circumstances,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the RTL broadcaster. 

“We are putting in considerable resources, we are making a lot of progress,” he added.

On Tuesday, more than 450 police officers and gendarmes were mobilised just for the search in the northern department of Eure where the attack took place, he said.

– ‘We will be uncompromising’ –

Two prison officers were killed in the attack and three others wounded, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said late on Tuesday.

One of the injured men was fighting for his life in hospital and two more were receiving critical care, she said.

The incident took place late on Tuesday morning at a road toll in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France.

The inmate was being transported back to his prison in the town of Evreux after he was questioned by a judge in the regional centre of Rouen in Normandy.

The prosecutor said the prison van was rammed head-on by a stolen Peugeot vehicle as it went through the toll crossing.

But the van and another vehicle in the prison convoy were also followed by an Audi.

Gunman emerged from the two cars and shot at both prison vehicles.

“We will be uncompromising,” President Emmanuel Macron said on X, describing the attack as a “shock”.

French television channels broadcast footage of the attack taken by surveillance cameras at the toll, showing the Peugeot colliding head on with the prison van.

In the video, several gunmen dressed in black emerge from both attack vehicles. A firefight ensues and one individual appears to be guided away from the van by the gunmen. 

A vehicle believed to have been used by the attackers was later found as a burned-out wreck at a different location. 

– ‘Never have imagined ‘ –

The prison officers who died, both men, were the first to be killed in the line of duty since 1992, according to Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.

One of them was married and had twin children while the other “left a wife who is five months pregnant”, he said.

Prison officer unions announced a day of minimum service on Wednesday and asked for urgent measures to improve the safety of staff.

Dupond-Moretti said he would meet union representatives on Wednesday.

“We are in mourning,” Vanessa Lefaivre, of the FO union at the Fleury-Merogis prison outside Paris told AFP. 

“We would never have imagined that prison staff would be killed like this.”

– ‘Kills more than terrorism’ –

Prosecutor Beccuau named the inmate as Mohamed Amra, born in 1994, saying that last week he had been convicted of aggravated robbery and charged in a case of abduction leading to death.

But a source close to the case said that Amra was suspected of involvement in drug trafficking and of ordering gangland killings.

Another source said he is suspected of being at the head of a criminal network. Some media said he had the nickname “La Mouche” (the fly).

His lawyer Hugues Vigier said Amra had already made an escape attempt at the weekend by sawing the bars of his cell and said he was shocked by the “inexcusable” and “insane” violence.

“This does not correspond to the impression that I had of him,” the lawyer told BFMTV.

The incident came on the same day as the French Senate published a damning report warning that government measures had been unable to prevent the flourishing of the narcotics industry in France.

“Narco-banditry kills many people, much more than terrorism,” said Darmanin, also pointing to the responsibility of drug users.

“One cannot at the same time cry for the widows and orphans of the Eure toll booth attack and then smoke a joint… this is called schizophrenia.”

Law and order is a major issue in French politics ahead of next month’s European elections and the prison van ambush sparked fierce reactions from politicians, especially the far right.

“It is real savagery that hits France every day,” said Jordan Bardella, the top candidate for the far-right National Rally (RN), which is leading opinion polls for the elections.


Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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