REAU, France — A notorious gangster who said his life of crime was inspired by films such as “Scarface,” and who said he once fled to Israel to escape police, pulled off a brazen jailbreak on Sunday, fleeing a prison near Paris aboard a hijacked helicopter in a commando-style operation.
Redoine Faid, 46, broke out of the prison with the help of two heavily armed accomplices, who used smoke bombs and angle grinders to overcome wardens in the facility’s visiting room where Faid was talking to a brother, according to prison unionist Martial Delabroye.
The men quickly made good their escape in the helicopter, in an operation lasting just 10 minutes, Delabroye told AFP at the penitentiary in Reau in the French capital’s southeastern suburbs.
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.
The helicopter — hijacked from a terrified flight instructor — landed at around 11:15 a.m. in the prison yard.
The two black-clad men armed with assault rifles set off smoke bombs before breaking their way into the prison’s visitation room using the power tools.
Informed sources earlier said there were three accomplices.
The wardens, who were unarmed, fled to safety and raised the alarm.
The helicopter was later found in a northeastern suburb of Paris about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the prison, one source said, adding that a manhunt 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. He was forced to fly before being later freed in a state of shock.
The men apparently went on to use a car that was later found torched in a shopping mall carpark, police said.
The 46-year-old Faid was serving time for the 2010 death of a young police officer killed during a botched robbery. In the 1990s, he led a gang involved in robbing banks and armored vans. He was arrested in 1998 after three years on the run in Switzerland and Israel, according to French media reports.
Faid wrote in a 2010 autobiography that while in Israel he disguised himself as an ultra-Orthodox Jew and learned Hebrew to escape police.
Police nicknamed him “The Author,” for two books he co-wrote about his delinquent youth.
Faid, who has a cult following in the tough immigrant suburbs outside Paris, where he grew up, has made several television appearances.
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 Aurelie Fouquet. He was arrested in 2011.
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 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.