French gangster flees prison in spectacular helicopter escape

PARIS, July 1 (Reuters) - A French gangster is on the run after being sprung from jail by heavily armed gunmen and escaping in a helicopter that landed in the prison grounds, the justice minister said on Sunday.

Redoine Faid was serving a 25-year sentence at a prison south of Paris for an armed robbery that went wrong and led to the death of a policewoman in 2010.

He is one of the country's most infamous gangsters with a long criminal career, which he has said was inspired by Hollywood blockbuster movies such as "Scarface" and "Heat."

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said a helicopter landed in a courtyard, which was not covered by any nets.

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Gangster Redoine Faid flees prison in helicopter escape
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Gangster Redoine Faid flees prison in helicopter escape
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows police near a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a forensic policeman investigating on a site where French robber Redoine Faid abandoned a French helicopter Alouette II after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris shows a car abandoned by French robber Redoine Faid at O'Parinor shopping mall parking after his escape onboard a helicopter from a prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows police near a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a forensic policeman taking a picture of a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris shows a forensic police officer investigating a car abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid at O'Parinor shopping mall parking after his escape onboard a helicopter from a prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris shows a forensic police officer investigating a car abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid at O'Parinor shopping mall parking after his escape onboard a helicopter from a prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows firefighters standing near the site where French robber Redoine Faid abandoned a French helicopter Alouette II after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris shows a car abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid at parking in a O'Parinor shopping mall after his escape onboard a helicopter from a prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on July 1, 2018 in Gonesse, north of Paris shows a French helicopter Alouette II abandoned by French armed robber Redoine Faid after his escape from prison in Reau. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
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"This was a spectacular escape. It was an extremely well-prepared commando unit that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand," she told reporters.

Two gunmen jumped from the helicopter to free Faid from the visitors' room where he was meeting one of his brothers before escaping in the helicopter, she said. A third gunmen had stayed in the helicopter with the pilot, who had been taken hostage.

Nobody was injured and the brother was arrested by police.

"They used concrete cutters to get through the first door and then the gates and then went to get him," police union official Jerome Nobecourt told Reuters, adding that the breakout happened in a matter of minutes.

The helicopter, the pilot of which was later released, was found burnt out north of Paris, as was a getaway car.

Belloubet said police had launched a manhunt and described Faid as dangerous.

PREVIOUS ESCAPE

It's not the first time Faid has escaped from jail.

In 2013, he took four prison guards hostage before using dynamite to blow his way out of jail and fleeing in a waiting getaway car.

(Photo: Francois Lo Presti via Getty Images)

He was on the run for six weeks and had changed his appearance before police captured him in a hotel with an accomplice.

Following a decade in prison, he was released under conditions in 2009 after convincing parole officers that he had changed.

His infamy has increased since then following appearances in several television shows and the co-authoring of books recounting his past and rise as a criminal in the tough suburbs of Paris.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; writing by John Irish. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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