Interpol Issues Alert for French Inmate on the Run After Deadly Ambush

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Interpol issued an alert on Wednesday for a French inmate who was freed during a violent ambush of a prison convoy a day earlier, an attack that left two guards dead, deeply shocked France and set off a large-scale police manhunt.

It was not immediately clear whether the alert, known as a red notice, meant that French investigators believed that the inmate — Mohamed Amra, 30, born in the northern city of Rouen and nicknamed “The Fly” — had fled abroad or was trying to.

But as the hours ticked by and no sign of the suspects publicly emerged, the French authorities vowed that they were going to great lengths to find Mr. Amra and the assailants who staged the ambush, at a tollbooth on a major highway about 85 miles northwest of Paris.

“Massive resources have been deployed to track down the perpetrators of this despicable attack,” Gabriel Attal, France’s prime minister, told lawmakers.

Over 450 officers, he said, had searched the area of the country where the assailants used two cars to block the prison convoy before emerging with automatic weapons and firing repeatedly, killing two guards and injuring three others before fleeing with the freed inmate.

It is still unclear how many assailants took part in the ambush, although security camera footage and bystander videos that were spread on social media after the attack suggested that there were at least five.

Interpol, an international organization that helps police agencies worldwide share information about fugitives and crimes, said it had issued the red notice at France’s request.

The notice — an appeal made by law enforcement in one country, asking their foreign counterparts to locate and arrest a suspect — says that Mr. Amra is about 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-11, with brown hair and dark brown eyes. Grainy pictures accompanying the notice show him standing in a gray-and-white tracksuit.

Mohamed Amra, the inmate freed in the ambush.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, told RTL radio that the riskiness of the attack and the amount of preparation that appeared to have gone into its planning were surprising, given that Mr. Amra was not high-profile, despite a lengthy criminal record.

“The violence, the massacre, the disproportionate means used to free this person,” Mr. Darmanin said, did not match what the authorities knew of Mr. Amra, whom the interior minister described as “not the biggest criminal that we have in our prisons.”

Mr. Amra was not in a maximum-security prison, and the prison authorities had not requested a police escort during his roughly one-hour transfer on Tuesday between a courthouse in Rouen and a prison in Évreux.

He has been convicted 13 times for offenses including extortion and assault, as well as several thefts, according to the top Paris prosecutor. His most recent conviction was for burglary, and he has not been convicted on any drug-related charges.

But Mr. Darmanin, speaking before the French Senate, called Mr. Amra a drug trafficker and said he was suspected of being responsible for ordering drug-related murders in Marseille, in southern France. Mr. Amra is under investigation there in connection with a drug-related kidnapping and homicide case.

As the ambush and ensuing manhunt drew international attention, French prison guards’ unions expressed dismay and outrage over the attack, which they said reflected dangerous working conditions fueled by an unsustainable level of violence in overcrowded prisons.

As of last month, there were nearly 77,500 inmates in France, but room for fewer than 62,000, according to official statistics. And France’s official prison watchdog has in recent years described a worsening “climate of violence” in the country’s prisons.

Transporting inmates outside prisons used to mostly be a police responsibility in France, but was gradually shifted to prison guards in the past decade. Prison guards say their equipment — handguns and vans — does little to deter assailants with powerful cars and heavy weapons.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of guards symbolically blocked prisons around France and observed a moment of silence. They demanded increased security during inmate transfers and a reduction in outside transportation of prisoners — for instance, by having legal officials come into prisons for certain procedures instead, or by using videoconferencing when possible.

Prison guard union leaders expressed satisfaction after a meeting with the justice minister that some of their demands had been heard. But they vowed to continue protesting on Thursday, and asked for a full review of security measures for prison convoys.

“We’ve seen two deaths,” Emmanuel Baudin, the head of the Force Ouvrière Justice union, told reporters after the meeting. “It could happen again tomorrow.”

Dominique Garcia, the father of Arnaud Garcia, 34, one of the prison guards who was killed on Tuesday, told BFMTV on Wednesday that his son’s wife was five months pregnant and that he had started working on prison convoys specifically to have free weekends with his family. But he was also devoted to his job, he added.

“He loved it,” Mr. Garcia said.

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