PARIS — Drones seen buzzing above a prison months ago may have been on a reconnaissance mission ahead of the cinematic escape of a notorious French criminal — his second in five years.
France’s justice minister said several drones were spotted flying over the Reau prison a few months ago, and speculated that they were linked to the escape Sunday, in which heavily armed men landed a helicopter in a courtyard, used a grinding machine to open the door of the visiting room where Redoine Faid was seeing his brother, and escorted the prisoner to freedom.
Faid, 46, is an avid fan of caper films, the author of a confessional book about his life of crime — and a serial robber of banks and armored trucks.
He was serving 25 years for an attempted armed robbery in 2010 that led to a high-speed chase and a shootout with police that killed 26-year-old officer Aurelie Fouquet. Faid had already escaped once before, in 2013, by blasting his way out with explosives hidden in tissue packs.
“Redoine Faid is someone who has freedom in his DNA. He also has lawbreaking in his DNA,” Laurent-Franck Lienard, the lawyer for Fouquet’s family, told RTL radio on Monday. “If there was one inmate to keep a close eye on, it was him.”
Faid’s brother was in custody on Monday.
French media reported that the three men took the helicopter pilot hostage at a flying club in the Paris region. He was later released with no physical injuries. The helicopter was found burned out.
A wanted notice for Faid said he drove off in a utility truck.
Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said authorities are urgently looking for gaps in the security system that would have allowed the brazen break-out. She said authorities are particularly focused on a link with several drones that flew over the prison some months ago.
French prime minister Edouard Philippe said 2,900 officers are searching for Faid.
“Police forces are fully mobilized in order to find this person,” Philippe told RTL. We know he is dangerous. We know he is a determined person and I want to find him as soon as possible.”
Faid was a fan of Robert De Niro, Michael Mann and Steve McQueen, according to Frederic Ploquin, who met him several times while researching a book about the French underworld.
“He always tried to bring to reality all these things that he learned in the movies,” Ploquin told BFM television. “This escape is very much in his style.”