One of France’s most notorious and dangerous gangsters, known for his bold attacks on cash-in-transit vehicles, blasted his way out of jail on Saturday after taking several wardens hostage.
Redoine Faid used explosives to blast through five prison doors and break out of prison in the town of Sequedin.
A full scale police search on land and in air is now underway to try and track the 40-year-old.
Faid, a practiced criminal set fire to his getaway car in the south of the city of Lille before getting into a second vehicle.
State Prosecutor Frederic Fevre said Faid, who has been one of France’s most wanted criminals for years ago, was a “particularly dangerous prisoner” and was still armed and in possession of explosives.
France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira has confirmed that Interpol have been called in to help track Faid and a Europe-wide warrant had been issued.
“The hunt will initially focus on Belgium of course because we share a border but also extend to the entire Schengen area and beyond,” she told reporters from Sequedin.
Officials say Faid had four hostages with him during the jailbreak.
One of them was released just outside the prison, another a few hundred meters away and the last two were left on a highway.
Wardens unions have called the prison break “an act of war” and are claiming that the Sequedin jail was inadequate for such a dangerous prisoner.
“This escape and hostage-taking were methodically prepared,” the CGT union said, adding that searches on inmates were not thorough enough.
A woman who was visiting her imprisoned son described the chaos at the time of Faid’s escape.
“I thought my last hour had come. Suddenly, everything started blowing up. The walls started shaking, as did the windows and the doors. I was really scared,” Rose Lafont told media outlets.
Prison union leader Etienne Dobremetz said Faid had received a visit from his wife earlier on Saturday morning. Her lawyer has since strongly denied to AFP that she was involved in her husband’s escape.
Faid co-authored two books while in prison for over a decade for robbery, detailing his delinquent youth and ascent as a criminal in Paris’ impoverished crime-ridden suburbs and has been described as a highly intelligent individual.
He also says he was inspired to enter a life of crime by films such as Scarface and Heat.
“Movies for me were like a user’s guide for armed robbery,” he told the LCI news channel when his autobiography was released in 2010.
Despite later stating that he had turned his back on crime, in 2010 Faid was a key suspect in an armed robbery in which a young policewoman was killed in a shootout.
Nicknamed “The writer”, Faid was sent back to prison in 2011 for breaching his parole conditions and was due to serve the remaining eight years of his original sentence. He faced 30 more years over the policewoman’s death however.
“I wasn’t surprised when I heard about his escape although there were no signs that anything was in the works,” his lawyer Jean-Louis Pelletier told AFP.
The search for Faid continues.