French gangster makes dramatic helicopter escape from prison

A notorious French criminal serving 25 years for murder has staged a daring escape from a prison south of Paris using a helicopter.

The justice minister said the escape took only "a few minutes" and that no one was injured.

Redoine Faid, 46, broke out of the prison near Paris with the help of two accomplices who used smoke bombs and angle grinders to make their way into the facility's visiting room where Faid was talking to a brother, who was later taken into custody, according to prison unionist Martial Delabroye and a judicial source.

The ministry added that the prosecutor's office had launched an investigation and a search operation had been put in place by police. At that time he used four guards as human shields and explosives that were hidden in a tissue box to blow out prison gates.

He was captured on May 29, 2013 when authorities found him hiding out at a hotel in Pontault-Combault, east of Paris. In April, he was again sentenced, this time for 25 years, for the killing of a policewoman during a failed robbery attempt in 2010. It was then found burnt out by local police.

Faid was freed in 2009 after serving 10 years in prison and at the time he swore he had turned his life around.

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In a dramatic style, Faid's associates hijacked a helicopter and made the pilot land it in a prison courtyard that was not protected by anti-aircraft setting. Police believe Faid was transferred to a waiting getaway auto, which was also found ditched. Early on Sunday afternoon, police sources told news channel France 3 that he had switched vehicles and was now in a white van.

He was arrested in 1998 following a global manhunt that tracked him to Switzerland and Israel.

Redoine Faid was in prison for armed robbery.

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 grew up in the French capital's tough immigrant suburbs.

Faid has authored a book in which he detailed his experiences growing up in a crime-ridden suburb of Paris. He is said to be devoted to Robert De Niro movies and the stylised crime thrillers of U.S. director Michael Mann. One of his prison supervisors said that Faid had never had any conflict with staff, "but we must always be wary".

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