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Manhunt for French gangster who used gun, explosives to escape prison

By Pierre Meilhan and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Sun April 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Redoine Faid was a wanted criminal in the '90s known for attacking armored trucks
  • He spent more than 10 years in prison, insisted he'd changed, then was arrested again
  • Faid held guards at gunpoint and used explosives to burst through a prison's doors
  • Law enforcement in France and elsewhere in Europe are now hunting for him

(CNN) -- Redoine Faid fashioned himself as a modern-day gangster. He thought big -- getting inspiration from the movies, as when he wore a hockey mask like Robert DeNiro's character in "Heat" -- and acted audaciously, attacking armored trucks among other targets.

After more than a decade in prison, though, the Frenchman insisted he'd sworn off his wicked ways.

This promise didn't last for long, according to French authorities. In 2011, a year after his autobiography came out, Faid landed back behind bars.

Now, he is once again free -- and, once again, the subject of an international manhunt after his brazen escape from prison.

Redoine Faid, said to be one of France's most dangerous gangsters, escaped from the Lille-Sequedin penitentiary in Sequedin, France, on Saturday, April 13. Redoine Faid, said to be one of France's most dangerous gangsters, escaped from the Lille-Sequedin penitentiary in Sequedin, France, on Saturday, April 13.
Daring escape from French prison
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Faid held five people, including four guards, at gunpoint at a detention center in the northern city of Lille on Saturday, officials said. He then burst his way to freedom, detonating explosives to destroy five doors, penitentiary union spokesman Etienne Dobrometz told CNN affiliate BFMTV.

Where he is now is anyone's guess. French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told reporters on Saturday that a European arrest warrant covering 26 countries has been issued, and that Interpol is working to track him down as well.

One person not surprised by Faid's breakout is his lawyer, Jean-Louis Pelletier. In a few days, Pelletier had planned to meet his client in preparation of an upcoming trial tied to a May 2010 attack in Villiers-sur-Marne, east of Paris, that left a 26-year-old policewoman dead.

"He is remarkably intelligent, and he is using his intellect to serve his ambitions," Pelletier told BFMTV. "(And Faid) cannot stand being imprisoned anymore."

Questions raised about prison's security

In his 2010 autobiography, "Robber: From Suburbs to Organized Crime," Faid chronicled his progression from a petty thief to one of France's most notorious criminals, according to the book's publisher, La Manufacture De Livres.

In 1998, after three years on the run during which he fled to Switzerland, Faid was finally caught. Sentenced to 20 years, he ended up spending more than 10 years in high-security prisons around France.

After getting out, Faid put himself out there -- not only with his book, but as the subject of numerous interviews.

The high-adrenaline life of crime he described resembled that of another famous French gangster, Jacques Mesrine. The country's most wanted man in the 1970s, Mesrine made his name as a charismatic, press-courting criminal known for his daring bank heists and spectacular prison breaks.

Mesrine's story ended in 1979, when he was gunned down by police on the streets of Paris.

Faid's prison escape Saturday evokes some of that brand of criminal bravado. But it also raises a number of questions: How did an inmate gets guns and explosives? How did he manage to use those to force his way out? And, after all that, why is he still at large?

The four guards who Faid allegedly held hostage "are safe and sound," said Lille prosecutor Frederic Fevre.

Still, officials from the prison guards' union pressed Taubira to provide better safety measures inside prisons, including more thorough searches of those who enter, BFMTV reported.

Built in 2005, the Lille-Sequedin penitentiary from which Faid escaped is not old, but it's not well designed to keep watch of prisoners, said Jimmy Delliste, a former associate director there.

"The construction ... makes it particularly difficult to manage detainees, who are particularly difficult to watch," Delliste told BFMTV.

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