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Gunmen ambush French prison van to free drug dealer, killing two guards

GUNMEN wearing balaclavas ambushed a prison van in northern France to free a drug dealer known as “The Fly,” killing two prison guards, severely wounding three and triggering a major police manhunt.

The brazen, morning attack at a toll booth 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.

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.”

The fugitive inmate, named Mohamed Amra, 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.

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

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said a major manhunt had been launched, with several hundred 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 condition.

“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 screen grab from a CCTV video shows gunmen wearing balaclavas ambushing a prison van to free a drug dealer in Val-de-Reuil, France May 14, 2024. OBTAINED BY REUTERS/Handout via REUTERS

NARCO ‘TIPPING POINT’

A flood of cocaine entering Europe each year has turbocharged organized 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.”

The Senate report said there had been a five-fold increase in French cocaine seizures over the last decade, and France’s drug trade had annual turnover of 3.5 billion euros ($3.8 billion).

With the country at “a tipping point”, it recommended the creation of a French version of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and a renewed focus on intelligence, money laundering and corruption.

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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.

By GABRIEL STARGARDTER and DOMINIQUE VIDALON

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