The black Peugeot 5008 rammed the police van carrying a prisoner as it emerged from a tollbooth on a major highway about 85 miles northwest of Paris. Hooded men with automatic weapons leaped from the car, encircling the van and firing on it with unhurried precision for more than two minutes.

When they were through, two prison guards were dead — the first to be killed in the line of duty in 32 years — three more were wounded, and the still-handcuffed prisoner the van was transporting, Mohamed Amra, had escaped, setting off a manhunt involving several hundred officers.

“The attack this morning, which took the lives of prison guards, is a shock to us all,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said on X after the attack, which occurred around 11 a.m. on Tuesday and stunned the country with its brazenness and violence. “We will be uncompromising,” he added, promising to track down the perpetrators.

But more than 10 hours after the ambush, no trace of the assailants, who also used a white Audi that followed the van, had been found, and Mr. Amra remained at large.

Laure Beccuau, the top Paris prosecutor, said at a news conference on Tuesday that one prison guard was still in critical condition. She said investigators were combing through a crime scene that showed signs of “extreme violence.” A national unit specialized in organized crime is leading the investigation, a move that is reserved for the most serious cases.

Ms. Beccuau said that Mr. Amra, 30, had no drug-related convictions. But French news outlets reported that Mr. Amra was known as La Mouche, or the Fly, and had been involved in international drug trafficking and organized crime.


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