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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - PARIS — A French armed robber who staged a spectacular jailbreak by helicopter has been handed an extra 14 years behind bars by a Paris court.
Rédoine Faïd drew inspiration for his criminal career from French and American gangster films.
He was eventually caught after his dramatic 2018 escape from Réau prison in the southern Paris outskirts.
Two brothers, three nephews and a convicted member of the Corsican underworld were also in the dock.
The break-out was Faïd's second successful humiliation of the French prison system. In April 2013 he used smuggled explosives and a gun to spring himself from Sequedin prison in the north, before being recaptured the next month.
On 1 July 2018 three armed accomplices commandeered a helicopter and ordered its pilot to land in a courtyard inside Réau jail. After they let off smoke bombs to confuse guards, one of the men — identified as Faïd's elder brother Rachid — used a disc-grinder to cut through doors leading to the visiting room.
Faïd was at that moment receiving a visit from another brother, Brahim. Inmates of the prison cheered as the helicopter took off with its new passenger. The whole operation took less than 10 minutes.
This time Faïd spent three months on the run. But police eventually traced him to his home town of Creil, north of Paris, where he was seen moving around dressed as a woman.
For Faïd, who was once described in a police profile as a "social predator" and a "gifted manipulator", the seven-week trial was a rare chance — after years in solitary confinement — to perform before a jury and present a romanticised version of his criminal past.
On his first appearance in the special courtroom, the same used in recent terrorist trials, he joked that he had put on running shoes for the occasion: "Because you never know. The light goes out, and then when it goes on again, puff — I'm gone!"
He said it was boredom and the prospect of another 20 years in jail that pushed him into planning the break-out, whose mechanism he based on previous celebrated French escapes. His flash of inspiration came when he saw the authorities had made the "incredible lapse" of not using anti-helicopter nets above the courtyard.
"I'm in a concrete sarcophagus 23 hours out of 24... What am I going to do? Kick my heels indefinitely?" he asked the court. "I have an addiction which consumes me and which I cannot cure. I am addicted to freedom."
Describing the moment he entered the prison courtyard, he said he "took the sun full in the face, like a first taste of freedom... It was indescribable. A confinement that suddenly opens to the four winds, to space, to the infinite".
Prosecution lawyers warned the jury not to be won over by the accused's personality and charm — nor by his version of events, according to which the escape was planned with a group of "professionals" who he refused to name.
In fact, according to the prosecution, the break-out was a purely family affair, Faïd's links with organised crime having been severed by his too-obvious love of the limelight.
During a brief period of "going straight" in the early 2010s, Faïd co-authored a book about his criminal past, and made regular appearances on national television.
Born to Algerian parents, the 10th of 11 children, Faïd robbed his first bank in 1990. He became an expert in attacking armoured vans, and his first conviction was in 1998.
Claiming to be inspired by Hollywood films such as Heat, he boasted that he followed a criminal code of honour and never hurt his victims. However in 2010 a policewoman was shot dead during a chase following a robbery which he organized.
The court convicted his elder brother Rachid, 65, for organising the helicopter flight. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
One of the nephews was also on board the helicopter, and a second was on standby with getaway vehicles. Faïd's brother Brahim, who claimed he knew nothing of the plot, was given a one-year suspended prison sentence.
A subplot in the trial concerned a Corsican mafia connection. Allegedly Jacques Mariani, a convicted underworld boss, was contacted by Faïd via an intermediary, with an offer to "deal with" gangland rivals if Mariani would organise an escape.
Both men told the court that the story was untrue. The only evidence came from the alleged intermediary, who testified from behind a screen and now lives under a new identity in a foreign country.
There was consternation in court earlier his month when due to a technical mishap the man's face was broadcast accidentally in the spectators' gallery. A photograph was taken and then shown on social media, but the culprit was never identified. — BBC
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