French prison van attack: Who is the escaped prisoner?

A mugshot of Mohamed Amra
[AFP / Getty]

A major manhunt is underway in France after two prison officers were killed in an ambush on a prison van near Rouen in Normandy.

Prisoner Mohamed Amra - known as "The Fly" - was being taken from court to a prison on Tuesday when a car rammed the prison van at a toll booth.

Amra and his accomplices reportedly escaped in a car, with a burnt-out vehicle found nearby. Hundreds of police are searching for them.

But what do we know about the Amra?

The 30-year-old inmate is said to have ties to a gang in the southern city of Marseille, which has been plagued by drug-related gang violence.

Prosecutors say he was convicted of burglary on 10 May and had been indicted by prosecutors in Marseille for a kidnapping that led to a death.

He was being held at the Val de Reuil prison, near Rouen, and had reportedly appeared at a nearby court house in relation to those new charges prior to the ambush.

Amra was not a "closely watched inmate", prosecutor Laura Beccuau said.

French policemen stand guard at the toll station of Incarville, near Rouen, in the North of France, where gunmen ambushed a prison van on 14 May 2024, killing two prison guards and helping a prisoner to escape.

His lawyer, Hugues Vigier, said Amra had already made an escape attempt at the weekend by sawing the bars of his cell and said he was shocked by the "inexcusable" and "insane" violence.

"This does not correspond to the impression that I had of him," the lawyer told BFMTV.

Mr Vigier said that his assistant had met with Amra on Tuesday morning.

"A short meeting, about an hour long was planned for this morning and my assistant saw Mr Amra and he was perfectly normal," he said.

"He knew about [Tuesday's] transfer so it is possible that he'd have told other people."

Amra's mother described breaking down in tears after hearing about the ambush.

"I broke down, I cried - I was so unwell - how can lives be taken away in this way?" she told RTL.

She also described her son's life in the prison system, saying he was "lugged around left right and centre, they put him in isolation instead of sentencing him once and for all".

She added that he never said anything to her about his escape plans.

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

She said she went to visit him in several of the prisons he's been held in, but "he never gave anything away. I don't understand".