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.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
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

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments