PARIS - Hundreds of police are hunting a prisoner nicknamed “The Fly” who was freed in an ambush by gunmen who shot dead two prison officers in northern France.

Mohammed Amra, 30, is on the run with four other men following Tuesday morning’s bloodbath close to the town of Val-de-Reuil in Normandy.

Amra is well known to the police as the boss of a narcotics network, and for allegedly ordering a mafia-style execution two years ago.

The two officers were killed and three others seriously wounded when Amra was released from a prison van that had stopped at a toll booth on a busy motorway.

Those who died in a firefight were identified as a 21-year-old father of two who leaves a widow, and an expectant father whose wife was five months pregnant.

Éric Dupond-Moretti, France’s justice minister, said the injured guards were all in a “life threatening” condition.

Amra, who has a total of 13 convictions to his name, was under “special surveillance”, but not considered radicalised or a terrorist suspect, said Mr Dupond-Moretti.

Amra’s nickname is linked to his multiple convictions and involvement in many types of crime, from alleged murder to aggravated burglary.

A source familiar with Amra’s criminal history said he was “nicknamed the fly, because he’s everywhere, like an annoying fly.

“He’s now with his gang members, and is considered to be extremely dangerous, and armed with some very sophisticated weapons.”

It was at around 11am on Tuesday when automatic gunfire was heard at the Incarville toll booth, on the A154, around an hour’s drive from Paris.

Stark CCTV images showed men wearing black sports clothes, with hoods up, carrying out the killings using automatic machine pistols.

Footage shared online from a bus showed armed attackers during the ambush.

They first used a car to halt a prison van taking Amara from prison to a court appearance in nearby Rouen.

One of the unidentified attackers was lightly injured, before the gang sped off in an an Audi A5 and a BMW 5 series.

The Audi was later found abandoned and burned out, but there was no trace of the assailants.

By the evening, 200 gendarmes had joined members of the elite GIGN – the Gendarme National Intervention Group – in a nationwide search for Amra and his accomplices.

Amra was last week being sentenced to 18 months for a series of aggravated thefts.

He used a gun to rob supermarkets and other businesses in the Évreux suburbs in the summer of 2019.

Amra was also being held in connection with the execution on a man in Marseille on June 17, 2022.

A polices source told RTL: “He is suspected of having ordered an assassination in Marseille on June 17, 2022.

“The charred corpse of a man was found in a burned vehicle, in the town of Le Rove, bordering Marseille. The victim had obviously been executed beforehand with a bullet to the head.”

Amra was indicted for kidnapping and sequestration leading to death by Marseille police, said a spokesman for the Paris prosecutor’s office.

Following the latest killings, prosecutors working for the National Jurisdiction for the Fight against Organised Crime (JUNALCO) have opened an enquiry into ‘murder and attempted murder by an organised gang’ – offences punishable with a life sentence.

They are also investigating ‘escape in an organised gang’, ‘acquisition and possession of weapons of war’ and ‘criminal association with a view to the commission of a crime’.

Earlier this year, Amra was being held at the Baumettes prison in Marseille, before being transferred to La Santé in Paris, and then Évreux.

Commenting on the latest shootings, Alexandre Rassaërt, president of the Eure Departmental Council, which covers Vale-de-Reuil, said: ‘I was frozen with horror when I learned of the real carnage that took place at the Incarville tollbooth.

“I sincerely hope that the gang of killers who carried out this bloody attack will be quickly arrested.

“All my thoughts go to the families of the service agents. penitentiary who escorted the detainees and who were killed or seriously injured during this attack which gave them no chance.

“I also think of all the prison administration guards who, every day, guard prisoners at the risk of their lives.”

French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke out following the murders, saying on X: ‘This morning’s attack, which cost the lives of prison administration agents, is a shock for all of us.

‘The Nation stands alongside the families, the injured and their colleagues. Everything is being done to find the perpetrators of this crime so that justice can be done in the name of the French people. We will be intractable.’

Following the ambush, the A154 was shut, with French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, saying on X: ‘All means are being used to find these criminals. On my instructions, several hundred police officers and gendarmes are mobilised.’

WHO is the escapee ?

Two days ago, French police caught Mohamed Amra trying to saw through the bars of his prison cell.

The incident prompted his relocation to a disciplinary unit and his surveillance level was raised to level three, one below the “special surveillance” level reserved for France’s most dangerous prisoners.

It was to prove a fateful decision, and the 30-year-old convict is now the target of a massive manhunt after he was broken out of a police van in a brazen and brutal daylight raid.

Nicknamed “La Mouche” (The Fly), Amra has been described in the French press as a “high-flying bandit” involved in both international drug trafficking between the French Caribbean and mainland France. He is also “suspected of masterminding a drugs-related assassination attempt on a French citizen in Spain in the summer of 2023”.

Amra was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Évreux magistrates’ court last Tuesday for aggravated robberies, including thefts from supermarkets and shops in the suburbs of Évreux between August and October 2019.

He had also been indicted by the specialised inter-regional court in Marseille for “kidnapping leading to death” and was then held at the Evreux prison on suspicion of ordering a murder in Marseille on June 17 2022, according to RTL. On that date, the charred body of a man was found in a burnt-out vehicle in Le Rove, near Marseille. The victim had clearly been shot in the head.

According to the Paris public prosecutor’s office, which has taken over the investigation, the trafficker had been charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment resulting in death by the Marseille JIRS (specialised inter-regional court).

The unsuccessful hit he allegedly ordered was filmed by terrified tourists in Marbella in July last year. According to Le Parisien, the Spain contract was part of a drugs turf war between Amra and a rival known as “Mehdi”. His rival then reportedly ordered a revenge hit in Evreux that same month in which two people died, one of them close to Amra.

He is also under investigation for “attempted homicide in an organised gang” in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray. At the time of the attack, he was being transferred back to Evreux from Rouen, where he had been interviewed by prosecutors over this case.