A notorious French criminal 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 Sunday.
Rédoine Faid was serving a 25-year sentence at Réau Prison, south of Paris, for an armed robbery that went wrong and led to the death of a police officer in 2010.
He is one of the country’s most infamous gangsters with a long criminal career.
“This was a spectacular escape. It was an extremely well-prepared commando unit that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand,” Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told reporters.
Two 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 gunmen had stayed in the helicopter with the pilot, who had been taken hostage. The pilot was later released.
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 was found burned out north of Paris, as was a getaway car.
Belloubet said police had launched a manhunt and described Faid as dangerous. Investigators were questioning Faid’s brother on Sunday afternoon.
The 46-year-old Faid was serving time for the 2010 death of a young police officer killed during a botched robbery.
It’s not the first time he has escaped from jail.
In the 1990s, he led a gang involved in robbing banks and armoured vans. He was arrested in 1998 after three years on the run in Switzerland and Israel, according to French media reports.
Faid was freed in 2009 after serving 10 years. At the time, he swore that he had turned his life around, writing a confessional book about his life of crime and going on an extensive media tour in 2010.
Still, he was the suspected mastermind of the attempted armed robbery in 2010 that led to a high-speed chase and a shootout with police that killed 26-year-old Aurélie Fouquet. He was arrested in 2011.
In 2013, he took four prison guards hostage before using dynamite to blow his way out of jail and fleeing in a waiting getaway car.
He was on the run for six weeks and had changed his appearance before police captured him in a hotel with an accomplice.