Top French criminal Redoine Faid escapes prison by helicopter

Faid took his inspiration, and modus operandi, from American gangster movies.

This September 2013 file photo shows prison guards entering the Reau penitentiary, south of Paris. About 200 trees and 9,000 plants and shrubs would be planted on the campus.

The ministry said an armed commando landed in a helicopter in the courtyard as the prisoner was in the visiting room of the prison. Moments later, the convict disappeared into the sky and out of captivity - all in broad daylight. In 2013, he had taken four prison guards hostage before using dynamite to blow his way out of prison and fleeing in a waiting getaway auto.

According to sources, the gunmen arrived at the entrance of the prison to create a diversion.

The ministry added that the prosecutor's office had launched an investigation and a search operation had been put in place by police.

Faid, who has a cult following in the tough immigrant suburbs outside Paris where he grew up, has made several television appearances.

Faid deboarded the helicopter and got into a auto, which was later found burned out at a shopping centre vehicle park in a Paris suburb.

The French National Police said Sunday that it had mobilized its forces and urged people to notify authorities with any pertinent information.

"It was an extremely well-prepared commando unit that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand", BBC quoted France's Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet as saying.

According to news channel BFM-TV, the breakout was pulled off while Faid was in the prison's visiting room around 11.30am local time. In 2013, he blasted his way out of a prison in northern France using dynamite before being recaptured six weeks later.

At a Paris film festival in April 2009, Faid approached Michael Mann, director of the 1995 gangster film "Heat" starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, telling him: "You were my technical adviser". Faid's other hero is Jacques Mesrine, the most celebrated French criminal of modern times.

Faid has a violent criminal record dating to at least the 1990s, when he organized the robberies of banks, shops and armored vehicles.

Faid, a notorious career thief, once managed to talk his way out of a 10-year sentence by convincing parole officials he was a changed man who regretted his past actions.

Still, he was the suspected mastermind of an attempted armed robbery in 2010 that led to a high-speed chase and a shootout with police in which 26-year-old policewoman Aurelie Fouquet was killed. His prison break marked the 12th time since 1986 that an inmate in France has used a helicopter to flee prison walls.

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