France’s enemy number one: Armed robber Redoine Faid is now on the run after a spectacular jail break

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

John Lichfield charts the 40-year-old's progress from teen delinquent to the notorious crime boss inspired by Hollywood gangsters


Redoine Faid has finally achieved the star billing that he has craved all his life. He is France’s “public enemy number one”.

As a young delinquent in a troubled suburb north of Paris, Faid took his inspiration, and modus operandi, from American gangster movies. “Take away the [lessons taught by] cinema and you would have 50 per cent less crime,” he once told Michael Mann, the director of Heat (1995), his favourite film.

In a raid on a security truck in 1997, Faid and his associates wore ice-hockey masks like the hero-villains of Heat. Three years ago, when he envisaged giving up crime for a career in the movies, he boasted: “I see everything in cinemascope.” Faid’s other hero is Jacques Mesrine, the most celebrated French criminal of modern times. Mesrine also turned his life into a kind of movie script, with interviews and letters to newspapers, before he died in a police ambush on the northern outskirts of Paris in 1979.

Wherever Faid may now be hiding, he will be delighted to see that the French media has labelled him the “new Mesrine”.

Last Saturday morning, 40-year-old Faid – a petty criminal turned armed robber, turned author, turned cinema consultant, turned armed robber again – spectacularly broke out of jail in Lille. As he was about to enter the visitor’s room to meet his brother, he produced a pistol from a bag. He fired a shot in the air and took four prison guards hostage. A box of paper tissues he was holding contained plastic explosives and fuses. Over the next 30 minutes, he blasted his way through four gates  and reached the prison car park.

An accomplice drove him away. They abandoned the first car – and their final hostage – after a few minutes and drove away on the A25 motorway in a pre-positioned second vehicle.

If Faid had pitched such an unlikely scenario in his putative “new career” as a film executive, he would have been rejected as a time-wasting “wannabe”. Now it is the French government, and the French prison service, which stand accused of bungling amateurism.

Faid, the French-born son of Algerian immigrants, is the subject of a European arrest warrant. He has been placed on Interpol’s “red”, or most wanted, list. The last time he fled France, in the 1990s, he turned up in Israel, wearing a kippa and pretending to be Jewish.

In a book of interviews and a TV documentary in 2010-11, Faid presented himself as the reformed symbol of a new generation of French organised crime. He said he was known as “doc” or “brain” – a leader of the gangs from the troubled suburbs of French cities who had moved from drug dealing and petty theft to challenge the traditional Corsican “milieu” of large-scale banditry.

After “30 years of crime”, of which he had spent 10 years in jail and three years on the run, it was all behind him, he insisted. “My life has been a heap of shit,” he said. “On the run, I lived constantly in fear of death and the police… It was hell. I couldn’t see my family. That was tough. It makes you think.”

Within a couple of months, he was arrested for his alleged part in a €2m (£1.7m) raid on a security truck. He was also accused – but denied – playing a role in a botched armed raid in May 2010 which ended in a shoot-out in which a 26-year-old policewoman died.

Before his break-out last weekend, Faid was awaiting trial for robbery and complicity in murder, and was facing a possible lifetime in jail.

Faid was born in Creil, north of Paris in 1972. In his book Braqueur: des cités au grand banditisme (“Robber: from housing estates to organised crime”), he said he began stealing and drug dealing at the age of eight. He took part in his first armed raid at 18. Faid said he saw himself as a “social climber of crime”. He wanted to break away from petty delinquency and go where the real money was – inside banks or “tirelires à roulettes”, which translates as “piggybanks on wheels”, or security trucks.

From drug dealing on the streets, he graduated to organising shipments of cannabis from Spain in high-powered limousines or “go fast” cars. For one of his first bank raids in the early 1990s, he copied the 1991 movie Point Break starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. In the film, the robbers wore masks of former US presidents. Faid’s gang appeared as Charles de Gaulle and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Like the actors in the movie, they told their victims: “Thank you for voting for me.”

In 2009, recently released from prison, Faid met the man he called his “mentor” or “university professor” – Michael Mann, the director of Heat. He told him he had watched his movie more than 100 times to analyse the methods used by the fictional robbers to attack an armoured security van.

“I told him that he was my best technical adviser,” he said in his book the following year. “With my mates, we would watch his movie like a training film on what to do, and what not to do, to be a successful bandit.”

In 1999, after a couple of years on the run, Faid was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 32 years in jail. A model prisoner (on that occasion), he was released after 10 years and plunged briefly into a new life as a celebrity ex-bandit.

After the publication of his book, he toured TV studios wearing a designer grey suit and open-necked white shirt like a successful young executive. He was the charming and eloquent subject of a TV documentary. He met movie bosses, including Thomas Langmann, who produced a TV bio-film on Jacques Mesrine as well as the Oscar-winning silent movie, The Artist.

The man who had taken his criminal ideas from the movies now wanted to complete the circle and advise film-makers on how to write and direct gangster films. “My experience is vital,” he said. “If the script-writers want to be authentic, they need experience like mine.”

This was, he said, the only way he could prevent himself from returning to a life of crime. “Boredom is the enemy of going straight… After being pushed around and lobotomised in jail, these new possibilities are helping me to start a new life. If I was just hanging around, I would plunge back in (to crime) again.”

According to the state French prosecution service, Faid was organising attacks on security trucks at the time that he made that comment in an interview in May 2011.

After last week’s prison break a career in the movies now appears unlikely. So what next?

There are several parallels between Faid’s life and that of another son of Algerian immigrants who made headlines in France last year. Mohamed Merah, the Toulouse “scooter killer”, graduated from petty crime, not to banditry, but to Islamist extremism and terrorism.

Merah also tried to star in his own movie. During his murderous attack on a Jewish school, he wore a miniature camera around his neck and sent the footage to a French TV station.

Mohamed Merah also has something in common with Faid’s criminal hero, Jacques Mesrine. Both ended their days in a hail of police bullets.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own