Gangster escapes French prison by helicopter

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A third gunmen had stayed in the helicopter with the pilot, who had been taken hostage. Faid has said he modelled his infamous 1990s bank and armored auto heists on Hollywood crime thrillers like "Heat", and once even thanked movie director Michael Mann for being his "technical advisor". "We know he is a determined person and I want to find him as soon as possible".

In this scenario, the drones flying around the prison were likely used to survey the area to plan Faid's escape.

French daily Le Figaro has also published what it says is an email written by a regional prison official seeking Faid's urgent transfer to another facility, citing "a serious threat of an attempt" to escape.

France's Justice Ministry Nicole Belloubet said the escape took only "a few minutes". Faid had already escaped prison once before, in 2013, by blasting his way out with explosives that were hidden in tissue packs. The three men were able to take the robber out of prison and put him on a plane and fly away.

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Faid and his accomplices continued their getaway by auto, changing vehicles along the way from a hatchback found burnt out in a shopping mall carpark to a white van seen leaving the area with France's most wanted man aboard. All the hostages were released unharmed.

Faid, a 46-year-old gang leader, committed his first bank robbery in 1990, and was arrested in 1998 after three years on the run in Switzerland and Israel, according to local media.

Before that incident, Faid had been released from prison after convincing the parole board that he renounced his criminal past.

Faid grew up in the French capital's tough immigrant suburbs. Shortly after, he said he was renouncing crime, the AP says, and wrote a book about his early life and his rise through criminal networks in France.

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At a film screening in Paris in 2009, he approached Michael Mann, director of the 1995 film Heat starring Pacino and Robert De Niro, and told him: "You were my technical advisor".

He wrote that he had watched the film dozens of times to ideal his bank-robbing prowess.

A union representative at Reau Prison, Martial Delabroye, told BFM television that two men dressed in black, wearing balaclavas and police armbands entered in the prison to look for Faid.

"In the corner of his mind, he never lost the idea of escaping. Behind all his manners - he is very polite - he always hid his game".

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