PARIS—A French gangster is on the run after being sprung from jail by heavily armed gunmen and escaping in a helicopter that landed in the prison grounds, the justice minister said on July 1.
Redoine Faid was serving a 25-year sentence at a prison south of Paris for an armed robbery that went wrong and led to the death of a policewoman in 2010.
He is one of the country’s most infamous gangsters, with a long criminal career, which he has said was inspired by Hollywood blockbuster movies such as “Scarface” and “Heat.”
Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said the helicopter landed in a courtyard that was not covered by any nets.
“This was a spectacular escape. It was an extremely well-prepared commando unit that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand,” she told reporters.
Around 3,000 French police are now participating in the manhunt, according to a police source. “Everything is being done to locate the fugitive,” an interior ministry official said.
Two black-clad gunmen jumped from the helicopter to free Faid from the visitors’ room, where he was meeting one of his brothers, before escaping in the helicopter, she said. A third gunman stayed in the helicopter with the pilot, who had been taken hostage.
Nobody was injured, and the brother was arrested by police.
“They used concrete cutters to get through the first door and then the gates and then went to get him,” police union official Jerome Nobecourt told Reuters, adding that the breakout happened in a matter of minutes.
The helicopter, the pilot of which was later released, was found burnt out north of Paris, as was a getaway car.
A police source told AFP that the pilot was a flight instructor who was waiting for one of his students when he was seized and forced to fly to the prison.
A car was later found torched in a shopping mall carpark, with police saying they thought the men had used it to make their escape.
Belloubet said police had launched a manhunt and described Faid as dangerous.
It’s not the first time Faid has escaped from jail.
In 2013, he took four prison guards hostage with a pistol before using dynamite to blow his way out of jail and fleeing in a waiting getaway car. All the hostages were released unharmed.
He was on the run for six weeks and had changed his appearance before police captured him in a hotel in an industrial area on the outskirts of Paris with an accomplice.
A hotel employee told AFP at the time that Faid had been in the hotel for a few days and had paid for the room using cash.
Following a decade in prison, he was released under conditions in 2009 after convincing parole officers that he had changed.
His infamy has increased since then following appearances in several television shows and the co-authoring of books recounting his past and rise as a criminal in the tough suburbs of Paris.
Police nicknamed him “The Author” for the two books he co-wrote about his youth.
He approached film director Michael Mann at a Paris film festival in 2009, telling Mann, “You were my technical adviser.” Faid later wrote that he had watched Mann’s film “Heat” many times as inspiration for his bank-robbing.
Watch the escape as it happened
Prison officers described Faid as “polite” and said they had never had any trouble with him, “but we must always be wary,” one supervisor said, according to AFP.
“In the corner of his mind, he never lost the idea of escaping. Behind all his manners—he is very polite—he always hid his game,” the supervisor said.
Additional reporting by John Smithies