PONTOISE, France (AFP) - A French gangster on the run for weeks after a dramatic helicopter jailbreak has narrowly avoided capture by a police patrol and had to abandon a car containing explosives, officials said on Wednesday (July 25).
Officers identified Redoine Faid as one of two people who sped away when police tried to carry out a security check on their car north of Paris on Tuesday, a source said.
It was the first sighting of 46-year-old Faid since he broke out of prison on July 1, whisked away by accomplices in a hijacked helicopter.
A source close to the investigation said a "major" search operation was underway Wednesday.
The officers spotted Faid and an accomplice while going to check on a suspicious vehicle waiting near a petrol station in the Paris suburb of Piscop.
As they approached it sped off, sparking a police chase which ended when officers found the car in an underground car park at a shopping centre in nearby Sarcelles.
Police found six packages of plastic explosives and fake licence plates in the car boot, while Faid and his accomplice are believed to have fled via a staircase.
"They escaped by a hair's breadth," a police source said.
"It happened in a matter of seconds."
Authorities sealed off the shopping centre while bomb disposal experts dealt with the explosives. Police were examining CCTV footage from the car park and sweeping the vehicle to confirm traces of Faid's DNA.
Faid, a career criminal, had been serving a 25-year term over a botched 2010 robbery in which a policewoman was killed, though he claims her death was accidental.
While the hunt for Faid goes on, one of his accomplices from the botched robbery was caught by chance on Monday.
A police source said Olivier Garnier, who had been sentenced on appeal last April to six years in jail, was picked up at a routine police road check in the Oise department north of Paris.
Around 100 specialist police have been working to track down Faid since his spectacular breakout from the Reau prison near Paris.
Two men posing as flight school students, who had already taken an introductory flight, forced a helicopter instructor at gunpoint to fly them to the prison.
The terrified pilot landed in the courtyard - the only part of the prison not fitted with anti-helicopter nets - prompting a heated debate in France about whether the country's prisons are secure enough.
Faid, who has multiple convictions for armed robbery, had escaped from prison once before, for six weeks in 2013.
He has cited movie baddies such as Tony Montana in "Scarface" as an inspiration and said he discovered his "calling" at the age of 12.
On July 10 investigators found a stash of guns, masks and a cement cutter in the Oise region north of Paris which they believe belonged to his gang.
A white Renault Kangoo, a vehicle Faid is known to have used, was also found in the Oise, where Faid grew up.