For obvious reasons, not a lot is publicly broadcast about the security measures in place at the Sud Francilien Penitentiary Center in Reau, France, about 25 miles southeast of Paris.
An old brochure for the facility, published before it was constructed in 2011, boasted of an "exceptional" penitentiary that would feature diverse landscaping: There would be meadows, embankments, ditches to retain water. About 200 trees and 9,000 plants and shrubs would be planted on the campus. Two facilities would house more than 500 male and female prisoners.
The brochure included no mention of a courtyard - large enough for a light utility helicopter such as, say, an Aerospatiale Alouette II - that would, notably, be the only part of the prison not covered by "anti-helicopter netting," according to the Associated Press.
Less than a decade later, on a warm Sunday morning, a small white helicopter would fly over the prison's plentiful foliage and land in the aforementioned courtyard. The passenger it sought was a 46-year-old gangster named Redoine Faid, who had been serving a 25-year sentence at the prison for armed robbery and murder.
Soon, Faid reportedly appeared in the courtyard, escorted by armed accomplices who had freed him from the prison visiting room, and boarded the aircraft, Reuters reported. Moments later, the convict disappeared into the sky and out of captivity - all in broad daylight.
The actual prison break took "a few minutes," according to France's Justice Ministry, but the plans had been unfolding all morning.
Earlier Sunday, Faid's associates had taken a helicopter pilot hostage at a nearby flight school, forcing him to fly to the prison, the BBC reported. Afterward, three armed men created a diversion at the prison entrance as the hijacked helicopter touched down in the courtyard, according to the news site.
Redoine Faid's escape spurred a massive manhunt across greater Paris. Not long after the prison break, the helicopter was found abandoned in a field in Gonesse, a Paris suburb just northeast of the capital, photos of the scene showed.
Faid allegedly then got into a black escape vehicle, which also was found abandoned in Aulnay-sous-Bois, another Paris suburb, the BBC reported.
The French National Police said Sunday that it had mobilized its forces and urged people to notify authorities with any pertinent information. Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet visited the prison to evaluate security measures, according to her agency's Twitter account. She is set to appear on a French news program at 7:20 a.m. Monday, local time, to discuss the prison break.
Sunday's escape was not the first time that Faid had pulled off a dramatic prison break. In 2013, Faid managed to escape from a prison in Lille, France, by taking four guards hostage and then detonating explosives hidden in a tissue box to blow out the prison gates, local outlets reported. He was recaptured six weeks later at a hotel in suburban Paris - but not before he briefly claimed the title of France's "public enemy number one," the Independent reported.
As John Lichfield wrote for the Independent after the widely reported 2013 escape, Faid was inspired by the crime bosses and schemes depicted in old Hollywood films:
As a young delinquent in a troubled suburb north of Paris, Faid took his inspiration, and modus operandi, from American gangster movies. "Take away the [lessons taught by] cinema and you would have 50 percent less crime," he once told Michael Mann, the director of Heat (1995), his favourite film.
In a raid on a security truck in 1997, Faid and his associates wore ice-hockey masks like the hero-villains of Heat. Three years ago, when he envisaged giving up crime for a career in the movies, he boasted: "I see everything in CinemaScope." Faid's other hero is Jacques Mesrine, the most celebrated French criminal of modern times. Mesrine also turned his life into a kind of movie script, with interviews and letters to newspapers, before he died in a police ambush on the northern outskirts of Paris in 1979.
Faid has a violent criminal record dating to at least the 1990s, when he organized the robberies of banks, shops and armored vehicles. He took families, couples and once a police officer hostage during the years-long spree, according to the Telegraph.
He spent years as an international fugitive before his capture, and then a decade in prison, and then wrote an autobiography after his release on parole in 2009. In it, he claimed to have been inspired by the U.S. gangster film "Scarface," the Telegraph wrote, but said his life of crime was behind him.
The same year that the book came out, the Telegraph wrote, Faid was suspected of masterminding a botched armed robbery, in which a police officer was killed in a shootout. He received an eight-year prison sentence in 2011 - interrupted by the 2013 breakout.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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