A manhunt was under way in France on Sunday after a notorious convicted murderer used a helicopter to escape from prison – only five years after he broke out of another jail by blowing the doors off using explosives hidden in tissue packs.
Rédoine Faïd, 46, a well-known armed robber who was serving 25 years for the murder of a police officer during a botched raid, was being held in the isolation unit of Reau prison south of Paris.
Faïd was in the visiting room of the prison talking to a family member at around 11.15am when a helicopter carrying at least two armed men landed in the grounds.
France’s justice ministry said the “armed commando” helped Faïd escape in just “a few minutes” with no one from inside the prison injured or taken hostage.
The men were dressed in black, wore police bands on their arms and carried assault rifles, a prison staff union representative told AFP.
The helicopter landed in a prison courtyard reserved for visitors which was not normally used for inmates and so did not have anti-flight netting over it.
The armed men burst out of the helicopter, let off gas canisters and used a grinding machine to force open the door leading to the visiting room.
The helicopter was later found burnt out just outside Paris. The pilot had been waiting for a flying lesson earlier that morning when he was held hostage at gunpoint and forced to fly the helicopter into the prison, France Info television reported.
Faïd is believed to have fled by car along with his accomplices. A manhunt was launched as police scoured the area and the prison was put on lockdown.
In 2013, Faïd blasted his way out of another prison with explosives concealed in tissue packs and a weapon hidden in the laundry. He blew up prison doors and took several prison staff hostage. He was arrested at a hotel six weeks later.
In the 1990s, Faïd led a criminal gang involved in the armed robbery of banks and armoured vans transporting money. He was arrested in 1998 after three years on the run in Switzerland and Israel, according to French media.
Faïd was freed in 2009 after serving 10 years in prison. He swore that he had turned his life around, writing a confessional book about his youth and delinquency and going on an extensive media tour in 2010, talking about how his criminal antics were influenced by American films such as Scarface and Heat.
He was arrested in 2011 and later sentenced to 25 years for the killing of a 26-year-old police officer, Aurélie Fouquet, during a botched robbery in 2010.