A Media-Savvy, Modern Jesse James Is On The Run In France

Son of immigrants, Redoine Faïd, 40, dealt drugs on the outskirts of Paris before turning to armed robbery. After repenting on French TV, a daring prison break has added to his legend.

Redoine Faid, France's most wanted man
Redoine Faid, France's most wanted man
Yves Bordenave

PARIS - In a matter of minutes, his “cred” skyrocketed. And there is nothing more precious than street credibility to criminals like Redoine Faid, 40, who already had quite a reputation before his latest coup on April 13, when he escaped from France’s Sequedin prison -- a gun in one hand and explosives in the other.

Faid is now atop France’s Most Wanted list,with hundreds of French and European police officers hot on his trail.

That’s likely to please him – as is the fact that fellow criminals all over France would have been following French media accounts of his caper minute by minute, impressed not only by what he did but how he did it. Respect!

If Faid has now been inducted to the gangsters’ Hall of Fame, it’s because of his signature mix of daring, determination and meticulous preparation -- the same mix that marked his escape.

It was just past 8:30 a.m. on Saturday when prison guards came to see him in his cell. He had a visitor – his brother Abdeslam – waiting for him in the visiting room. But the visit never took place because in the area where prisoners are searched before they are admitted to the visiting space, Redoine Faid brandished a gun. "You’re not going to get yourself killed for 1,500 euros a month!” he is quoted as having said as he ordered guards to follow him and obey his orders.

Words like that out of the mouth of somebody like Faid are not merely formulaic – the guards had no doubt he’d back them up by shooting them if they failed to obey. Faid’s gestures were precise, confident. He even fired into the air to show that the gun wasn’t fake and that it was loaded. Then he started moving. One by one, he used explosives to open the armored doors that separated him from the outside. It took five explosions to do it.

And then he was out. He let two of his hostages go, and ran with two others in the direction of the A25 highway several hundred meters away. Inside the prison, the alarms had gone off.

Police teams were hot on Redoine Faid’s heels but when he reached the highway access ramp one or more accomplices drove up in a Peugeot 406 and he climbed in, taking his last hostage with him. Within minutes he was driven to another waiting car. He let the hostage go, set fire to the Peugeot. And then he was gone.

He disappeared, and nobody knows in what direction. A police helicopter and cars with sirens blaring lost track of him.

"We don’t know which direction he took," state prosecutor Frédéric Fèvre admitted. "He could just as well be in Belgium, or Paris, or anywhere else including right here, waiting for things to calm down."

Smooth criminal

What is certain is that Redoine Faid had been planning this for a while – and had help. "He needed several weeks to work out all the details, nothing was left to chance. This escape was carefully thought through," Fèvre said. How did the explosives and the gun make it into the prison? These are among the questions of the investigation opened by the prosecutor’s office. A European arrest warrant for Faid has also been issued.

A handsome man with a shaved head and a stubble, Redoine Faid – who is well-spoken and has an irresistible smile – is dangerous and entirely without scruples. The son of a laborer, of Algerian extraction, he began his criminal career as a teen drug dealer in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris, then went on to specialize in holding-up armored cars with a Kalashnikov rifle.

That’s his life. That’s his job. In 2010, he wrote a book about it called Braqueur: des cités au grand banditisme ("Bank Robber: From the Ghetto to the Mob").

Faid has been convicted several times for armed robbery and other crimes -- including three times by a criminal court. An adrenaline junkie, he is a great admirer of another public enemy number one, the notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine – who committed a number of bank robberies, burglaries and kidnappings in the 1960s and 1970s before being gunned down by police in Paris in 1979.

He also admits to being a fan of movies like Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), in which Robert De Niro plays a career criminal holding-up armored cars.

Faid told of his own exploits in a documentary broadcast by French TV channel Canal+ in 2011.

Faid has a definite flair for self-promotion. Released on parole in 2009, for several months he made the rounds on French TV, dressed in designer suits and immaculate white shirts. He presented himself as a reformed criminal from the banlieue and told anyone who’d listen that "crime doesn’t pay." He was through with the criminal life, it was time to get "a real job," he said. "I’ve put it behind me, it’s better that way," he repeated over and over -- as if trying to convince himself.

By his own account, Redoine Faid had become an honest man, ready to earn an honest living. He had projects, like being a consultant to producers, writers and journalists working on crime stories. "Thirty years of delinquency, three years on the run, ten years in prison – what a shit life," is the way he summed himself up to a captive audience.

But the fairy tale didn’t last long and illusion gave way to reality quickly enough. Not long after he’d made the media rounds, he was back to his old tricks. Police suspect him of having participated in an attack on an armored car in northern France on March 17, 2011. The heist yielded 2 million euros. Faid was on the lam at that point – suspected of having taken part in a hold-up attempt that resulted in the death of a police officer, he was wanted by French police.

Determined and intelligent

Aurélie Fouquet was 26 years old when on May 20, 2010, in Villiers-sur-Marne, on the outskirts of Paris, she was killed by stray bullets from a Kalashnikov rifle during a shoot-out with criminals looking to hold-up a money depot. The armed robbers had been spotted by police in a housing project and at first tried to get away on the A5 highway. They were stopped however at Villiers-sur-Marne and trapped by several police vehicles. The men – wearing balaclavas and armed with Kalashnikovs – opened fire. They were shooting to kill.

Investigators are convinced that Redoine Faid was one of the organizers of the hold-up. He denied it, but when he was caught in July 2011, his pockets were stuffed with bank notes from the hold-up. Indicted for murder and criminal conspiracy, his trial was coming up when he made his spectacular jailbreak.

If convicted he was looking at life in prison. His lawyer, Jean-Louis Pelletier, who had been due to meet with his client to prepare for the May trial, describes him as "determined and remarkably intelligent." Charming and crafty also apply. As Faid himself writes humbly in his book: "You don’t last long in armed robbery if you have a chick pea for a brain."

Since his incarceration at the Sequedin prison, he was considered a “DPS” -- for "détenu particulièrement signalé" – a prisoner requiring special supervision. A highly gifted criminal, Faid belongs to the new generation of gangsters, that of self-made men from the projects.

Operating outside the traditional crime world, they start out as petty criminals, dealing drugs. In the early 1990s, some of them drove what are known as "Go Fast" vehicles, the cars that courier drugs at great speeds from the south of Spain to France. The most seasoned among them often dreamt of becoming armed robbers – pulling off a heist that could net them several million euros in a few minutes.

Redoine Faid, a.k.a. "The Brain," belongs to that category of criminal. Nothing stops him. He has now succeeded in breaking out of prison, but it’s not the first time he’s been on the run. He has been hunted by law enforcement before. It’s an expensive way to live, and to finance it fugitives often need to get their hands on funds. Which may lead to more crime – and possibly drawing a Go To Jail card that sends them right back inside.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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