Helicopter jailbreak gangster appears in French court

It was not his first prison escape and he was said to be inspired by prison films

The criminal went on a media tour promoting his autobiography in 2010.
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An armed robber famous for a dramatic prison escape by helicopter in 2018 has appeared in court in France today (Tuesday, September 5) over the dramatic jailbreak.

The trial of Rédoine Faïd, 51, will last seven weeks and he will appear alongside 11 other defendants, including five family members.

He will partly be answering for his role in his helicopter escape from Réau prison (Seine-et-Marne) on July 1, 2018.

Dramatic escape

The escape happened when at least three men wearing balaclavas forced a helicopter pilot at gunpoint to land in the prison’s main courtyard at around 11:20. The pilot had been falsely told that he would be conducting a first flying lesson.

One man remained in the helicopter with a gun pointed at the pilot’s head, while the two others descended and threw smoke bombs. One ‘stood guard’, holding a gun, while the other used an angle grinder to break into the prison corridor where Mr Faïd and his brother Brahim were being held.

Witnesses reported that the pair walked quite calmly to the helicopter, which then took off again. No shots were fired and the entire process took less than 10 minutes.

Videos taken by fellow prisoners circulated on social media, and a furore around the security of prisons erupted. The Réau prison, and others, have since installed security lines above their courtyards and other spaces in a bid to avoid a similar incident in future.

The helicopter pilot was later forced to land near a small road and the criminals escaped in a Renault Mégane. The car was later found abandoned in a shopping centre car park where the group is thought to have switched over to a Kangoo in Enedis livery. This was later found on the A1, near Creil.

Night-time arrest

Faïd managed to stay on the run for three months. However, he was caught after a tip-off about a ‘masculine-looking’ figure spotted under a burqa (a full-body covering with a mesh over the eyes) in Creil (Oise), where Mr Faïd grew up.

He was arrested at 04:00 at a house belonging to his nephew’s friend.

In the subsequent investigations, an arsenal of weapons was found, but questions remain about the financing of the criminal activities.

Sentence upon sentence

If found guilty as expected, Faïd is likely to be sentenced to many years in prison, and risks a life term. Even before the current trial was announced, he had been due to remain behind bars until at least 2046, for crimes he has already committed.

These include his role in a failed armed robbery in 2010, in Villiers-sur-Marne, which killed a 26-year-old municipal police officer, Aurélie Fouquet. Faïd was found guilty for this by the appeal court, and sentenced to 25 years.

In 2020, he was sentenced to another 28 years - again at appeal - for the 2011 bombing of a banking van in Pas-de-Calais. Further appeals to the French Supreme Court were rejected.

In 2003, he was sentenced to 12 years for his role in taking hostages at their homes, and in 2002 he was given 15 years for the 1997 armed robbery of a van in Seine-Saint-Denis, during which 2.7 million francs (the equivalent of around €600,000 today) were stolen.

He was released on parole in 2009, and this was the only time he has ever legally left prison.

In 2013, he escaped from Sequedin prison - using four prison officers as human shields - before being recaptured six weeks later.

He is known for being lax about hiding while on the run and was previously spotted using an internet cafe with his brother, and staying close to where he grew up.

The gangster is said to be inspired by prison films, with his favourite being 1995’s crime thriller Heat, directed by Michael Mann.

"Rédoine Faïd lives his life a bit like in the movies,” said Jean-François Maugard, former BRB commander, to France 2. “What interests him is the adrenaline. That's why his escapes are so sophisticated, and his ‘on the run’ periods are so phenomenally unprepared.”

Family affair

Faïd is now being held in high security, solitary confinement conditions in Fleury-Mérogis. According to one of his lawyers, Marie Violleau - who spoke to AFP - he has not expressed any remorse, except to say that he regretted involving his family members in his escape.

Two of his brothers and three nephews were involved in the bust, and are also on trial. Two others, suspected of helping to buy cars illegally, are also on trial; as is the group’s landlady from Creil.

Investigators also suspect that another person - an expert in aviation, who is thought to have helped with navigation - was on board the helicopter during the escape. He has never been identified, but investigators have referred to a man called ‘Le Corse’.

This may be a reference to Jacques Mariani, a high-profile figure in Corsican organised crime, who is also standing trial.

Mr Mariani is accused of involvement in a previous plan to help Faïd break out of Fresnes prison in 2017, in return for help with exacting revenge on a rival gang, who the Corsican reportedly blames for his father’s death.

Yet, Mr Mariani has denied all the charges.

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