Escaped French prisoners captured

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Two armed convicts who blasted their way out of a French jail taking guards and motorists hostage were captured Tuesday near Paris, police said.

PARIS - The pair, armed with at least one handgun, were picked up at around 0500 GMT on a main road outside the town of Creteil.

A source close to the investigation said gunfire was exchanged and at least one of the escaped criminals may have been injured although that could not be immediately confirmed.

In a statement, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie praised cooperation between different police services whose mobilisation resulted in arrests "less than 48 hours" after the escape of "two dangerous criminals."

The duo escaped from a jail in central France on Sunday after taking two guards hostage and using smuggled explosives to blow open security gates, officials said.

They stole a vehicle and police, including officers from the elite GIPN special weapons squad, gave chase in squad cars and helicopters.

On Monday, they kidnapped a 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.

Police sources identified one of the fugitives as Christophe Khider, 37, who 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.

The second was 30-year-old Omar Top El Hadj, who 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 the gun and some explosives have been detained for questioning, Lyon police investigator Claude Catto told AFP.

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

On June 9, 2000, three inmates fled in a stolen helicopter that picked them 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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