Massive manhunt underway for escaped inmate known as “The Fly” after officers killed in prison van attack in France

A massive manhunt was underway in France on Wednesday for armed assailants who ambushed a prison convoy, killing two prison officers, seriously injuring three others and springing the inmate they were escorting. The prime minister vowed the gang would be caught, saying, “They will pay.”

“We are tracking you, we will find you and we will punish you,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said in parliament, to applause from lawmakers. “They will pay for what they have done.”

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said “unprecedented” efforts were being deployed. Hundreds of officers were mobilized in the search for the escaped convict, Mohamed Amra, and the assailants who laid in wait for the prison van transporting him, ramming a car into it before opening fire on Tuesday.

Global police body Interpol said Wednesday it had issued a red notice at the request of France for the arrest of the 30-year-old Amra.

Gunmen wearing balaclavas ambush a prison van to free a drug dealer in Val-de-Reuil
A screen grab from a CCTV video shows a person aiming as gunmen wearing balaclavas ambush a prison van to free a drug dealer in Val-de-Reuil, France May 14, 2024. 

Handout via REUTERS

“A red notice has been issued at the request of French authorities for escaped prisoner Mohamed Amra, alias ‘The Fly’,” Interpol said. A red notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and arrest a wanted individual.

The notice said Amra is about 6 feet tall, has wavy brown hair, dark brown eyes and a beard.

The violence of the attack shocked France. Prison workers held moments of silence Wednesday outside prisons in Paris and elsewhere to commemorate the officers who were killed.

Darmanin, speaking Wednesday on RTL radio, expressed hope that Amra could be caught “in the coming days.” Without giving full details about the extent of the manhunt, he said 450 officers had been deployed in the region of the attack in Normandy in northern France to search for the assailants and clues about their whereabouts.

“The means employed are considerable,” he said. “We are progressing a lot.”

The attack appeared to have been carefully prepared. The convoy was transporting Amra back to jail in the Normandy town of Évreux after a hearing with an investigator in Rouen when it was ambushed on the A154 freeway.

The prison van and another prison escort vehicle had just gone through a toll booth on the freeway when the van was rammed head-on by a car. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the car had been stolen and had gone through the toll booth a few minutes ahead of the prison convoy and then waited there.

Another car followed behind the convoy, seemingly boxing it in. Assailants sprang from the cars and opened fire, spraying the prison vehicles, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said.

The assailants and Amra then fled. Two burned cars were subsequently found which investigators are examining, Beccuau said.

One of the officers killed was a 52-year-old captain in the prison service, where he had worked for nearly 30 years, and a father of two, Beccuau said. The other officer killed, aged 34, was a married father-to-be, she said.

Amra, 30, has a long criminal record, with at least 13 convictions for robbery and other crimes, the first when he was just 15, she said.

Escaped convict has history of violent crime

Amra has a long history of convictions for violent crimes that started when he was only 15, according to judicial sources.

The 30-year-old inmate from Rouen in northwestern France, reportedly known as “La Mouche” (The Fly), was still on the run Wednesday, a day after alleged accomplices killed two prison officers at a toll station and fled the scene with him.

Undated mugshot of 30-year-old French inmate Amra
Undated mugshot of 30-year-old French inmate Mohamed Amra, also known as “The Fly”, who was freed by accomplices in a May 14, 2024 deadly French prison van attack that left two guards dead and three injured. 

Handout via REUTERS

Three other prison guards were injured in the attack, with one fighting for his life.

“He is very well-known to the judiciary,” Paris chief prosecutor Laure Beccuau told reporters.

Amra has close links to organised crime, said another source close to the case who asked not to be identified, and is suspected of ordering killings linked to the drugs trade.

Another source who asked not to be named said Amra runs his own drug trafficking network.

However, none of his 13 prior convictions — for crimes ranging from armed robbery to extortion — were directly related to the narcotics business, said Beccuau, who is leading the investigation into the motorway attack.

He was jailed in January 2022 in Evreux prison in the northwestern Normandy region to serve several sentences, including for criminal conspiracy, extortion, robbery, armed violence and participation in an illegal motor rodeo.

The latest conviction, for robbery, was handed down only last week.

At the time of his escape he was also facing two fresh charges, one for attempted murder and another for participation in a gangland killing in the southern city of Marseille on the French riviera, a hub for drug trafficking and gang violence.

AFP contributed to this report.

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