Protests at French prisons as search continues for gunmen who killed officers

Hundreds of prison officers across France have held protests after gunmen shot dead two prison officers in an ambush at a Normandy motorway toll and freed a convict linked to gangland drug killings.

On Wednesday morning, groups of prison officers blocked prison entrances across France, while some burned pallets and tyres.

Prison officers will hold a minute’s silence at 11am in memory of the killed officers, and in support of the three others who were seriously injured in the raid on a prison convoy transporting an inmate between a courthouse in Rouen and a prison at Evreux on Tuesday.

At one prison near Marseille, more than 100 prison officers had gathered beneath a banner saying: “We’re not paid to die.”

Many officers said they would carry out only a minimum service on Wednesday. Unions called for greater security and limited transfers of prisoners between prisons and courthouses.

Some 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 metres squared and should only hold one person, of course that creates tension and incidents.”

The French justice minister will meet prison officers unions on Wednesday afternoon.

Hundreds of police and gendarmes continued to search for the escaped convict 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. The inmate was being transported after being questioned by a judge in the regional centre of Rouen in Normandy back to his prison in the town of Evreux.

The Paris prosecutor 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.

The prison officers who died, both men, were the first to be killed in the line of duty since 1992.

The Paris prosecutor named the escaped inmate as Mohamed Amra, who was born in 1994, saying that last week he had been convicted of aggravated robbery and charged in a case of abduction leading to death.

The case to find the fugitive and his accomplice and 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 of ordering gangland killings.

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Amra’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, said the inmate 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.

The incident came on the same day that 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 prison van ambush sparked fierce reactions from politicians, especially the far right.

Politicians on the right and far-right were travelling to prisons on Wednesday 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 a sign of not just a French but a global failure on drug-trafficking.

The Guardian

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