Two armed men attacked a van carrying a prisoner on his way to a French court on Monday, firing at the vehicle and striking a guard before making their getaway in the southern town of Tarascon, officials said.
The escape follows last year’s dramatic helicopter jailbreak by Rédoine Faïd, a notorious gangster, which led to calls for prison services to improve their security and intelligence gathering.
Monday’s raid took place around 8:30am, as dawn was breaking, just outside the courthouse where 27-year-old Lotfi Boussouak was due to be brought before a judge.
The prisoner, who had been detained since September 2017, faced charges of armed robbery, said prison officials.
Two heavily armed men, who had been lying in wait, “fired on the vehicle when it tried to get away with the prisoner”, the local prosecutor Patrick Desjardins said. He had earlier suggested three gunmen had been involved in the snatch.
Several bullet holes were found in the van, including in the front windscreen, and at least 11 cartridge cases were recovered from the scene, including some from an automatic rifle, he added.
The three guards escorting Boussouak from a jail in Béziers 150km (90 miles) away, two men and a woman, were “very shaken” by the incident, but none of them was hit by the gunfire, the prosecutor said.
“The first officer to exit the vehicle … to ring the [courthouse] intercom was struck with a rifle butt,” Desjardins said. Another guard was hit by flying glass.
The gang and the prisoner escaped on foot, he added.
Desjardins said Boussouak had 14 previous convictions, but he had not been identified as needing special supervision, even though he was linked “to the higher spectrum of crime”.
However, Karim Terki, a prison guard union representative, said he had already attempted to break out of jail.
The authorities were “really naive; he played nice for several months in order to try to escape again”, Terki added.
The last dramatic jailbreak in France took place in late December when a prisoner at the Fresnes prison, south of Paris, managed to escape from an exercise yard by climbing over a wall with a rope made of bedsheets.
Guards in the watchtowers fired three shots but the prisoner got away.
In July 2018, Rédoine Faïd, serving a 25-year jail sentence for a series of crimes, as busted out of jail by helicopter. Two heavily armed accomplices hijacked the aircraft and used smoke bombs to whisk him away from the prison in Reau, 50km south-east of Paris.
Faïd, a career criminal with multiple convictions for armed robbery, was caught after three months on the run.