Massive manhunt after ambush of prison van

Footage taken from a nearby bus shows a gunman wearing a balaclava.

Footage taken from a nearby bus shows a gunman wearing a balaclava. Photo: X

Hundreds of French police are involved in a massive manhunt after a convict was sprung from a prison van during a deadly ambush by balaclava-clad gunmen.

The brazen daylight attack on a motorway on Tuesday (local time) left two guards dead and three severely wounded, while the prisoner and his accomplices are on the run.

Police are searching the north-west of France and have set up road blocks as French President Emmanuel Macron said “everything is being done” to find the perpetrators.

It’s been reported that the van was transporting drug dealer Mohamed Amra – known as The Fly – from court to jail when an SUV rammed its front at a motorway tollbooth.

Footage shows gunmen jumping out of the SUV.

They reportedly attacked the prison officers – killing two and leaving three with life-threatening injuries – before escaping with the convict in a getaway car.

A burnt-out vehicle was later discovered nearby.

An SUV rams the front of the prison van at a French tollbooth. Photo: Getty

The brazen morning attack in Incarville, in the Eure region of northern France, underlines the growing threat of drug crime across Europe, the world’s No.1 cocaine market.

The fugitive inmate is a 30-year-old drug dealer from northern France, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office and police sources.

He had been convicted of burglary by a court in Evreux on May 10 and was being held at the Val de Reuil prison.

Amra had also been indicted by prosecutors in Marseille for a kidnapping that led to a death, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.

A police source in Marseille said Amra was a drug dealer with ties to the city’s powerful “Blacks” gang.

Images on social media showed gunmen in balaclavas circling near an SUV that was in flames.

The SUV appeared to have been rammed into the front of the prison van.

Amra’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, told BFM TV that the violence of the incident did not correspond with the person he knew. He said Amra had tried to escape from prison on Sunday by sawing at the bars of his cell.

“This element suggests that there was an escape attempt in preparation,” Vigier said.

The site of the ramming attack at a road toll. Photo: Getty

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said a major manhunt had been launched, with hundreds of officers involved.

Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said the prison van was attacked while Amra was being driven to meet an investigating judge in Rouen. He said two of the injured officers were in critical conditions.

“Absolutely everything will be done to find the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” he told BFM TV.

“These are people for whom life means nothing. They will be arrested, judged and punished according to the crime they committed.”

A burnt-out escape car found nearby. Photo: Getty

It came on the same day that France’s Senate released a major report on drug trafficking, warning that the country faces a “tipping point” from rising narco violence that represents “a threat to the fundamental interests of the nation”.

A flood of cocaine entering Europe each year has turbocharged organised crime across the continent, leading to ever more violent confrontations with police and deadly turf wars between gangs.

“This brutal attack shows the threat of organised crime is as big as the terrorist threat,” the European Union’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson wrote on X.

“We must counter it with the same determination.”

Marseille has been the epicentre of France’s gang violence, with a particularly violent war between trafficking gangs.

France’s main prison guards unions called for a symbolic one-day shut down of the country’s jails “to express our emotion in support of our colleagues who died in service”.

They also sought an emergency meeting with the justice minister to discuss prison overcrowding and security risks.

-with AAP

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