Drones flew over French prison months before spectacular escape

France’s justice minister says investigators believe that drones seen months ago buzzing above a prison may be linked to the brazen escape of a notorious French criminal.

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said authorities are urgently looking for gaps in the security system that would have allowed heavily armed men to land a helicopter in the prison yard and fly away with Redoine Faid, whose brother was visiting him.

They used a grinding machine to open the door of the visiting room where Faid was seeing his brother, and took the prisoner to freedom.

The helicopter was found torched in a field.

The helicopter abandoned by Redoine Faid after his escape from prison on Sunday.

French media reported that the three men took the pilot hostage and later freed him. Faid’s brother has been detained.

French prime minister Edouard Philippe said 2,900 officers are searching for Faid.

“Police forces are fully mobilised in order to find this person,” Mr Philippe said. “We know he is dangerous. We know he is a determined person and I want to find him as soon as possible.”

A wanted notice says Faid is believed to have made his escape in a utility company truck.

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 armoured trucks.

He 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,” Mr Ploquin said. “This escape is very much in his style.”

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 a 26-year-old officer, Aurelie Fouquet.

“Redoine Faid is someone who has freedom in his DNA. He also has lawbreaking in his DNA,” Laurent-Franck Lienard, the lawyer for Mr Fouquet’s family, told RTL radio on Monday.

“If there was one inmate to keep a close eye on, it was him.” - Lawyer Laurent-Franck Lienard.

It was the second daring escape by Faid, who once blasted his way out of a different prison with explosives hidden in tissue packs.

His latest escape, from Reau Prison, took only “a few minutes,” France’s Justice Ministry said. Unarmed guards said they could do nothing to prevent it.

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