Who is 'The Fly'? The French prisoner who escaped in van ambush

A suspected drug boss is on the run in France after escaping during an ambush that left two prison guards dead. 

The prisoner was being transported between prison and a Rouen court when heavily armed men ambushed the van.

Here is what we know so far about the inmate and how he escaped.

Who is the prison escapee?

The escaped prisoner is Mohamed Amra, who is nicknamed "La Mouche", or "The Fly", according to French media.

The 30-year-old is a drug dealer from northern France, police sources said.

One of the sources said Amra had ties to Marseille's powerful "Blacks" gang, while public prosecutor Laure Beccuau said he was under investigation for a kidnapping and homicide case in the city.

Amra is also suspected of ordering the assassination of a Frenchman in Spain in 2023.

He was under high surveillance and had recently been sentenced to 18 months for burglary.

However, he was not considered a "radicalised" prisoner, according to police sources speaking to French newspaper Le Figaro.

He had 13 previous convictions for mostly minor offences, including theft, driving without a licence and refusing to stop for police, according to BFM TV.

Previous escape attempt

A prison source told Le Parisien that Amra had tried to saw the bars off his cell two days before the ambush.

He had reportedly been placed in solitary confinement and his surveillance level raised after the escape attempt - making more guards necessary during transportation.

What happened in the ambush?

Amra was being taken to Evreux jail in Normandy after a court hearing in Rouen, about 35 miles away, when it was attacked by men in two vehicles.

CCTV footage showed a black SUV colliding with a white van.

One of the vehicles used in the escape was recently stolen in the Seine-et-Marne area, French broadcaster BFM TV reported. The attackers tried to set the first vehicle on fire before fleeing. Both cars were found burned close to where the attack took place.

Two male prison officers were shot dead and three others seriously injured during the attack, which happened at a motorway tollbooth.

Footage also showed at least two men in balaclavas carrying rifles circling near the SUV in flames.

Read more:
Nationwide manhunt for 'The Fly' intensifies

Amra's mother and lawyer react

Amra's lawyer, Hugues Vigier, said he was "stunned" by the "inexcusable" violence.

"This does not correspond to the impression that I had of him," he told BFM TV.

"If he is involved, it is because I was truly wrong about how Mohamed Amra worked and what he was capable of," he told the French broadcaster.

Amra's mother said she did not know about the planned attack.

"He doesn't talk to me. He's my son, he doesn't talk to me about anything at all."

She described her response to the attack, telling RTL: "I broke down, I cried - I was so unwell - how can lives be taken away in this way?"

What has the response been?

Several hundred police officers have been mobilised in a major manhunt after Tuesday morning's escape.

"All means are being used to find these criminals. On my instructions, several hundred police officers and gendarmes were mobilised," interior minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on X.

Public prosecutor Laure Beccuau announced an investigation into the attack, which is now considered a case of organised crime and murder.

The investigation will also address organised escape attempts, possession of military-grade weapons and conspiracy to commit crime.

A day of blockades dubbed "dead prisons day" has been announced in jails across France on Wednesday as prison officer unions respond in anger to Tuesday's attack.

Local media on Wednesday reported demonstrations outside of prisons across the country - including in the French capital Paris, Rouen, Nice, Grasse, Draguignan and Amiens.

A minute's silence is also planned across the French criminal justice system including prisons and courtrooms.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said two of the injured officers were in a 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."