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FILE PHOTO: A prison watchtower is seen at Reau penitentiary, near Paris, September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
PARIS (Reuters) - A French gangster is on the run after being sprung from jail by heavily armed gunmen and escaping in a helicopter that landed in the prison grounds, the justice minister said on Sunday.
Redoine Faid was serving a 25-year sentence at a prison south of Paris for an armed robbery that went wrong and led to the death of a policewoman in 2010.
He is one of the country's most infamous gangsters with a long criminal career, which he has said was inspired by Hollywood blockbuster movies such as "Scarface" and "Heat".
Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said a helicopter landed in a courtyard, which was not covered by any nets.
"This was a spectacular escape. It was an extremely well-prepared commando unit that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand," she told reporters.
Two gunmen jumped from the helicopter to free Faid from the visitors' room where he was meeting one of his brothers before escaping in the helicopter, she said. A third gunmen had stayed in the helicopter with the pilot, who had been taken hostage.
Nobody was injured and the brother was arrested by police.
"They used concrete cutters to get through the first door and then the gates and then went to get him," police union official Jerome Nobecourt told Reuters, adding that the breakout happened in a matter of minutes.
The helicopter, the pilot of which was later released, was found burnt out north of Paris, as was a getaway car.
Belloubet said police had launched a manhunt and described Faid as dangerous.
It's not the first time Faid has escaped from jail.
In 2013, he took four prison guards hostage before using dynamite to blow his way out of jail and fleeing in a waiting getaway car.
He was on the run for six weeks and had changed his appearance before police captured him in a hotel with an accomplice.
Following a decade in prison, he was released under conditions in 2009 after convincing parole officers that he had changed.
His infamy has increased since then following appearances in several television shows and the co-authoring of books recounting his past and rise as a criminal in the tough suburbs of Paris.
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; writing by John Irish. Editing by Jane Merriman)