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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

French criminal breaks out of prison in a helicopter

Notorious inmate Redoine Faid, 46, had also blasted his way out of jail in 2013

French police stand near a helicopter abandoned in Gonesse, north of Paris, by armed robber Redoine Faid after he used it to escape from a prison in Reau on July 1, 2018. Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP
French police stand near a helicopter abandoned in Gonesse, north of Paris, by armed robber Redoine Faid after he used it to escape from a prison in Reau on July 1, 2018. Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP

A notorious career thief who was once France's most-wanted man pulled off a daring jailbreak on Sunday, fleeing a prison near Paris by helicopter in a commando-style operation.

Redoine Faid, 46, who previously said his life of crime was inspired by films such as Scarface, broke out of the prison with the help of three armed accomplices, according to sources close to the case.

It is the second time Faid has pulled off a spectacular jailbreak - in 2013, he blasted his way out of a prison in northern France using dynamite.

Sunday's escape from the penitentiary in Reau in the French capital's south-eastern suburbs took just minutes, the prison authority said, adding that no one had been injured.

"An armed commando group landed in the courtyard of the Sud-Francilien prison in Reau while he was in the visitors' room," the authority said.

The assailants then hacked through a lock that led through to a hallway where Faid was waiting with one of his brothers.

The helicopter was later found in a north-eastern suburb of Paris about 60 kilometres from the prison, one source said, adding that a police search has been launched across the entire Paris region.

A police source said the helicopter pilot was a flight instructor waiting for a student when he was seized by Faid's accomplices, before being later freed in a state of shock.

The escape came after an appeals court in April sentenced Faid to 25 years for masterminding a 2010 botched armed robbery in which a policewoman was killed.

Faid, dubbed "The Author" by police, has been behind bars since mid-2011 for breaking the terms of his parole over past convictions for bank robberies and brazen heists of cash-in-transit vehicles.

In his 2013 jailbreak, he briefly took four guards hostage with a pistol before escaping in a waiting getaway car. All the hostages were released unharmed.

Faid was eventually recaptured six weeks later at a hotel in an industrial area on the outskirts of Paris.

A woman working at the hotel told AFP at the time that Faid's accomplice had paid for the room in cash and that the two men had been there for several days.

Prior to this, Faid had been released from a previous stint of a decade behind bars after convincing parole officials that he regretted his criminal past and was determined to start afresh.

Faid, who grew up in tough immigrant suburbs outside Paris, has made several television appearances and co-authored two books about his delinquent youth and rise as a criminal in the Paris suburbs.

One of his prison supervisors said that Faid had never had any conflict with staff, "but we must always be wary".

"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.