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.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
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

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style