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What we know about France’s ‘The Fly’ and his deadly prison van escape


A massive manhunt was underway in France on Wednesday and an Interpol red notice was issued a day after a group of gunmen ambushed a prison van at a motorway toll and freed a notorious gangster known as “The Fly”. Two prison officers were killed in the spectacular escape and three more were wounded. Here’s what we know so far.

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The brazen attack took place near Incarville in the Eure department in Normandy at 10:57am on Tuesday, May 14, as police were transporting a detainee between jail and a hearing.

Footage from surveillance cameras, obtained by several French media, shows the prison van slowing down to pass through a motorway toll when a black Peugeot SUV – reported as stolen a few days earlier – suddenly crashes into the vehicle head-on, blocking its passage. Several black-clad men wearing balaclavas and equipped with military-grade weapons step out of the passenger car and open fire on the van. They are then joined by a second crew who step out of a nearby Audi. The attackers ultimately manage to free the prisoner, identified by prosecutors as 30-year-old Mohamed Amra, aka “The Fly”.

The whole operation is estimated to have taken around two minutes.

Frédéric Liakhoff, secretary of the prison officer union FO-Justice at the penitentiary centre in the city of Caen, told the AFP news agency that the prison guards accompanying Amra were armed with “simple Sig Sauer [handguns] while they faced weapons of war”.

Amra had been escorted by five guards, the second-highest security level for transporting inmates in France and typically reserved for those implicated in terror or organised crime cases.

According to top Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau, the security measures surrounding Amra had been revised and upgraded just “a few weeks ago”.

Two prison officers were killed in the attack and three more were injured, one of whom is still fighting for his life.

The two vehicles believed to have been used by the perpetrators were later found burned-out at other locations.

Hundreds of officers deployed

A woman who was travelling on a bus going through the motorway toll at the time of the attack recounted that gunshots had suddenly started to ring out everywhere. “Everyone threw themselves on the floor and went to [hide in] the back of the bus,” she told French daily Le Parisien. “One of the passengers also had to take the wheel and back the bus up,” she said, adding that “the driver was too afraid of getting shot”.

More than 450 police officers and gendarmes have been deployed to the Eure region to participate in a massive manhunt for Amra and the men who freed him.

Interpol on Wednesday also issued a red notice search warrant for Amra, which means that police in other countries can locate and arrest him. The red notice also confirmed Amra’s drug lord alias “La Mouche” (“The Fly”), as had been reported by several French newspapers, and said he was suspected of “acquisition, detention, transportation, offering or disposal of narcotics”.

More than a dozen convictions

Amra, from the northern city of Rouen, has an impressive criminal track record and was jailed in January 2022 in Normandy’s Evreux prison to serve several sentences, including for criminal conspiracy, extortion, robbery, armed violence and participation in an illegal motor rodeo.

His latest conviction, for burglary, was handed down only last week.

“He is very well-known to the judiciary,” Beccuau told a press conference on Tuesday, noting Amra has 13 previous convictions to his name, none of which have been directly related to the narcotics business. His first conviction dates back to 2009, when he was just 15 years old.

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

According to several French media, Amra has close links to organised crime and runs his own drug-trafficking network. Police sources with whom Reuters spoke described him as a mid-level player in France’s drug trade, with connections to Marseille’s powerful “Blacks” gang.


Amra’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, told broadcaster BFMTV that he was “dumbfounded” to learn of his client’s escape, adding that he found it hard to believe that Amra would be involved in “such indiscriminate, dramatic, insane, inexcusable violence”.

“If he is implicated, then I will have been wrong about how he functions and what he is capable of,” Vigier said but noted that just two days before the attack Amra had been caught sawing the bars of his cell.

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

Despite this, Vigier voiced “another possibility” for the deadly ambush, suggesting Amra might actually have been kidnapped by gunmen who came “not to free him but to take him and make him pay for what they think he did”.

The free daily 20 Minutes also cited an unnamed police source as saying that while Amra’s position in the Marseille underworld would have allowed him to give orders “we did not think him capable of such a high-level operation”.

The deadly attack has shocked France and prompted President Emmanuel Macron to vow an “uncompromising” response once the perpetrators have been caught.

Thousands of prison workers across France on Wednesday also staged a symbolic 24-hour shut-down of jails in support of their slain colleagues.

The prison van attack marked the first time that French prison guards have been killed in the line of duty since 1992.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and Reuters)

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