PARIS • The French government has admitted possible security failings after a notorious gangster used a helicopter to stage the second brazen jailbreak of a crime career inspired by films such as Scarface.
The latest dramatic escape by Redoine Faid, who had multiple convictions for armed robbery, has left the authorities red-faced, and a manhunt involving 2,900 officers has been launched.
The 46-year-old movie buff was sprung from a prison near Paris by two accomplices who used smoke bombs and angle grinders to break through doors and whisk him to a waiting helicopter.
Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told Europe 1 radio yesterday she had sent a team of inspectors to the prison "to see whether the security measures were defective so that we can rectify them".
She suggested Faid had been left in the same prison for too long, giving the serial fugitive, who had professed to have reformed, time to plot his escape. "We must be careful not to leave the same people in the same places for too long when we're dealing with this type of individual," she said.
The two accomplices hijacked the helicopter on Sunday by posing as aspiring students at a flight school, ordering a terrified instructor to pick up a third accomplice before continuing on to the prison.
On arrival at the high-security facility in Reau, the pilot headed towards the courtyard - the only part of the prison not fitted with anti-helicopter nets. Two men armed with assault rifles then alighted and set off smoke bombs before breaking into the visiting room, where Faid was talking to his brother.
The unarmed wardens fled and raised the alarm. But within 10 minutes, Faid was gone, with his fellow inmates reportedly cheering as the helicopter lifted off.
Ms Belloubet on Sunday said the gang probably used drones to stake out the seven-year-old prison. The helicopter was found abandoned in a north-eastern suburb of Paris, about 60km from the prison, along with the pilot who had been beaten and was taken to hospital in a state of shock.
The gang had continued their getaway by car, changing vehicles along the way from a hatchback found burnt out in a shopping mall carpark to a white van.
Investigators are looking into whether Faid, who had been at the Reau prison since November, had inside help.
Journalist Jerome Pierrat, who co-wrote a book with Faid about his life, told The Parisien newspaper he was a "charmer" who was popular with his guards.
Last year, Faid was sentenced to 10 years over a previous jailbreak, and 18 years for an attack on an armoured car in 2011. He was sentenced this year to 25 years over a botched 2010 robbery in which a policewoman was killed.