French jailbreak ends in shootout

18th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

A hail of bullets ended gangsters' two days on the run.

PARIS - A dramatic two day cross-country manhunt ended in a hail of bullets on Tuesday when French police finally cornered two armed gangsters who had blasted their way out of a high security jail.

One fugitive, 37-year-old Christophe Khider, was shot in the torso and seriously wounded in an exchange of fire after police rammed their getaway car just before dawn in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, officials said.

The other, 30-year-old Omar Top El Hadj, was stunned when the pair's car crashed during the arrest operation and was captured unharmed, according to interior ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet.

Three officers were lightly injured in the collision, he added.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie congratulated officers on the arrests, which came two days after the pair produced a gun, took two prison guards hostage and used explosives to blast open a jail security door.

Following Sunday's escape, the pair hijacked a series of cars and led police in helicopters and squad cars on a two-day chase across the country, first north towards the Belgian border then south again towards Paris.

On Monday, they kidnapped motorist Willy Peters and his grandson in the northern town of Amiens and forced them to drive to Arras, closer to the Belgian border, where they released them unharmed.

The pair then doubled back towards Paris. Arriving in the city in the early hours of Tuesday they rammed a vehicle, kidnapped the driver, took him to a bank machine and forced him to withdraw cash, according to investigators.

Heading back out towards the suburbs, they abandoned their hostage, who alerted police. They were next spotted on the A86 motorway, east of the city, where officers from France's organised crime squad gave chase.

Khider pulled a gun, triggering an exchange of fire with the police in which he was shot twice in the torso, Gachet said. He was taken to hospital in a "serious condition", but officials denied early reports that he had died.

Khider had been serving a life sentence since 1999 for an armed robbery in which a hostage was killed and another 15 years for an earlier escape attempt.

El Hadj was convicted for his role in a shoot-out with police in 2002 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Two young women who visited the escapees at the jail shortly before they produced a gun and explosives have been detained for questioning.

Sunday's jailbreak was not the first to hit the Moulins jail, a high security facility in central France where police unions have complained of serious safety lapses.

On June 9, 2000, three inmates fled in a stolen helicopter that picked them up from the roof of the jail. And on February 12, 2003 three more convicts used smuggled explosives to blast down a gate before they were overpowered.


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