NICE, France — A week before the notorious French gangster Redoine Faid broke out of prison commando-style—again—a French penal system official warned he was “very dangerous” and should be moved to a more secure facility immediately.
But nothing was done. And as if on cue, Faid broke out of the prison at Réau near southeastern Paris late Sunday morning in a helicopter escape so “spectaculaire,” in the words of one French official, that he bested the Hollywood bad guys in films like Scarface and Heat that he often said inspired him.
Now Faid, a media darling with a cult following because of his upbringing in one of the tough Parisian immigrant ghettos, is once again one of France’s most wanted criminals with hundreds of police hot on his trail.
Faid, 46, a bank and armored-car robber, is a legend in France for blasting his way out of another prison in 2013 using dynamite and taking four wardens hostage. In the '90s he ran a robbery ring and when police moved in, he fled to Israel disguised as an Orthodox Jew and learned to speak Hebrew.
But he fooled the country in 2010 when he published a memoir called Braqueur, (Bank Robber). The book has a cover blurb from Heat director Michael Mann whom Faid approached at a Paris film festival in 2009. Faid told Mann, who directed Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in the gangster film, that he had been his de facto “technical adviser.”
When his book was published, Faid made the rounds of TV shows dressed nattily in a crisp white shirt proclaiming himself a changed man and a bandit no more. “My demons aren’t asleep, they’re completely dead,” Faid said in 2010.
A few months later, 26-year-old policewoman Aurélie Fouquet was shot to death during a botched robbery engineered by Faid in Val-de-Marne. Faid is serving a 25-year sentence in connection with her death.
This time, Faid and his accomplices may have engineered Sunday’s jailbreak because he was facing a hard deadline.
Faid was due to be transferred to a tougher prison in Dijon in September but in an prescient and sharply-worded email dated June 22, a penal system official, citing his 31 years of experience, said it was “very dangerous” to wait and they risked “very serious violence” if Faid wasn’t moved well before September.
Faid’s brother was visiting him in prison when two heavily-armed men burst into the room and extracted him using smoke bombs and power tools. A third man remained in the helicopter in the prison courtyard with the pilot, a flight instructor who had been abducted along with his aircraft in a nearby airfield prior to the brazen operation.
Faid apparently gave his accomplices excellent intel. French media reported that the courtyard in which they landed the chopper was the only one at the prison not fitted with anti-helicopter nets because it’s only normally used for inmates when they are being admitted or released.
The “terrified” instructor was released and discovered in a “state of shock,” French police said. The helicopter was abandoned northeast of Paris near Charles de Gaulle airport and lit partially on fire. Faid and his three cohorts jumped into a black Renault Megane, then switched that out for a white van with the word “Enedis” on the outside.
Embarrassed officials began blaming the media for allegedly glorifying Faid’s prison break. But they admitted there “may” have been a screw-up that allowed Faid to literally fly the coop again.
Of course the way the French phrased it made events leading up to the break late Sunday morning sound almost elegant. “Il y a peut-etre eu une… défaillance,” or “slight failure” involving security measures, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said.
But how long can Faid, who’s good at getting out but sometimes bad at eluding capture, stay on the lam? In 2013 he was arrested in a cheap, Paris-area hotel room just six weeks after his escape.
The good news for him is that he’s a hero to seemingly half the country, with inmates gleefully filming his helicopter from between prison bars as he flew up and away with his accomplices.
“What an over-the-top dazzling escape,” someone called Leopard-King wrote on social media after viewing the video. “Only a Frenchman could pull that off. No tunneling through a sewer system. No, no, it has to be an Ocean’s Eleven extravaganza! I'm surprised the helicopter did not pull a twenty foot banner advertising his new clothing line that is to drop this fall. How fabulous! Bravo!”
French actress Béatrice Dalle, 53, known for her love of controversy, posted her support on Instagram.
“May God protect you, bravo, all of France is with you, at least I am that’s for sure,” Dalle wrote before it was apparently deleted by the social network after an Internet firestorm, according to Europe 1.
Faid is a Frenchman of Algerian descent from a large family and is said to be so polite, charming, and well-dressed that people don’t realize he is actually a manipulative predator.
He first committed larceny at age six when he stole a shopping cart full of sweets from a supermarket near the housing project where he grew up in Creil. Before long he was a full-fledged juvenile delinquent and called the “Terror of Creil,” Le Monde reported.
Le Monde also quoted a source at the Réau prison who said Faid never engaged in conflicts or confrontations in jail but that he was someone “you had to be careful around. In some corner of his head, he never lost the idea of trying to escape. He was very polite; he always hid his game.”