The Guardian

Manhunt intensifie­s in France as officers killed in ambush named

- Angelique Chrisafis Paris

Two French prison officers who were shot dead in an ambush that freed a convict linked to gangland drug killings were named yesterday, as police continued a massive hunt for the fugitive.

Fabrice Moello, 52, and Arnaud Garcia, 34, were killed, and three others seriously wounded, in the attack on a prison convoy on Tuesday during which the inmate, Mohamed Amra, escaped. They were the first French prison officers to be killed in the line of duty since 1992.

As tributes were paid to the two men, hundreds of prison officers across France held protests yesterday, blocking prison entrances, burning pallets and tyres, and marking a minute’s silence at 11am in memory of the two officers.

At one prison near Marseille, more than 100 prison officers gathered beneath a banner saying: “We’re not paid to die.” Many officers said they would carry out only a minimum service yesterday. Their unions called for greater security and limited transfers of prisoners between prisons and courthouse­s.

Some officers complained of the poor conditions and violence in France’s overcrowde­d prisons. Erwan Saoudi of the FO Justice union said: “When you put three people in a cell that is 9 sq m and should only hold one person, of course that creates tension and incidents.”

Dominique Garcia, the father of one of the victims, said his son’s killers must be brought to justice. “My son was murdered. This ambush was worked on, prepared, premeditat­ed,” he told French radio. “This act must not go unpunished.”

The French justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, was due to meet prison officer unions yesterday.

Hundreds of police and gendarmes were continuing to search for Amra and the gunmen.

The ambush of the prison van took place late on Tuesday morning at a road toll in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France. Amra was being transporte­d back to his prison in the town of Évreux after being questioned by a judge in the regional centre of Rouen in Normandy.

The Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said the prison van was rammed head-on by a stolen Peugeot vehicle as it went through the toll crossing. The prison vehicle was followed by an Audi from which hooded gunmen dressed in black emerged and used automatic weapons to shoot at both vehicles in the prison convoy.

Beccuau said that last week Amra, who was born in 1994, had been convicted of aggravated robbery and charged in a case of abduction leading to death.

The case to find the fugitive and his accomplice­s, and to investigat­e what appears to have been a well organised plot, has been handed to prosecutor­s from France’s office for the fight against organised crime.

A source close to the case told Agence France-Presse that Amra was suspected of involvemen­t in drug traffickin­g and gangland killings.

Amra’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, said the inmate had already made an escape attempt at the weekend by sawing the bars of his cell. He said he was shocked by the “inexcusabl­e” and “insane” violence. “This does not correspond to the impression I had of him,” the lawyer told BFM TV.

The incident occurred on the same day the French senate published a damning report saying that government measures had been unable to prevent the flourishin­g of the narcotics industry in France.

The committee chair, Jérôme Durain, said France was “not yet a narco-state” but drug traffickin­g nonetheles­s constitute­d “a direct threat to the national interest” and the government’s anti-drugs measures were “not up to the challenge”.

Law and order is a big issue in French politics in the run-up to next month’s European elections, and the ambush sparked fierce reactions from politician­s, especially on the far right.

Politician­s on the right and far right travelled to prisons yesterday in support of the protesting prison officers.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, told French radio that “savagery is touching our society”. He said the incident was not just a sign of a failure by France but a sign of a global failure on drug traffickin­g.

 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: GONZALO FUENTE/REUTERS ?? Prison staff protest against the killings at a detention centre in Val-de-Reuil, Normandy, yesterday
PHOTOGRAPH: GONZALO FUENTE/REUTERS Prison staff protest against the killings at a detention centre in Val-de-Reuil, Normandy, yesterday
 ?? ?? ▲ Fabrice Moello, left, and Arnaud Garcia died in the prison van attack
▲ Fabrice Moello, left, and Arnaud Garcia died in the prison van attack

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