At least two French prison guards were shot dead and three others seriously injured on Tuesday after heavily armed men ambushed a prison van to free an inmate, French police said, triggering a major manhunt.

The orchestrated attack, which comes amid rising drug-linked violence across Europe, took place around 0900 GMT at a toll booth in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France. The unnamed inmate and the attackers escaped, police said.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said a major manhunt had been launched.

“All means are being used to find these criminals. On my instructions, several hundred police officers and gendarmes were mobilized,” he wrote on X.

Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said two of the injured officers were in a particularly critical state.

“Absolutely everything will be done to find the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” he told BFM TV. “These are people for whom life means nothing. They will be arrested, judged and punished according to the crime they committed.”

Images on social media showed at least two men in balaclavas carrying rifles circling near an SUV that was in flames. The SUV appeared to have been rammed into the front of the prison van.

Drug crime has spiralled across Europe, which has been flooded with cocaine in recent years. Marseille has been the epicentre of France‘s gang violence, with a particularly violent war between trafficking clans.

Local media reports named the fugitive inmate as 30-year-old Mohamed A.

A French police source said he was suspected of ordering a murder in Marseille, and had ties to the city’s powerful ‘Blacks’ gang.