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LES ECHOS

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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