French 'getaway king' on trial for brazen helicopter jailbreak

Faid risks life imprisonment for the repeat jailbreak (Benoit PEYRUCQ)
Faid risks life imprisonment for the repeat jailbreak (Benoit PEYRUCQ)

A convicted burglar who escaped prison in 2018 aboard a hijacked helicopter in a jailbreak that astonished France went on trial in Paris on Tuesday, facing life in prison over his brazen getaway.

Nicknamed the "getaway king", Redouine Faid, 51, was serving time for burglary when accomplices hijacked a helicopter and landed it in the courtyard of Reau prison, southeast of Paris, on the morning of July 1, 2018.

While one of them held a gun to the pilot's head, two others stepped out of the helicopter launching smoke grenades.

One of them then kept watch, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, while another -- wearing a fake police armband -- used a circular power saw to cut open the gate to the prison cell corridor where Faid and his brother Brahim were being held.

Witnesses later said that Faid "very calmly" walked out of his cell to the waiting helicopter, which took off without any shots being fired. The entire operation took 10 minutes. Police later found the helicopter abandoned.

He was re-captured three months later, hiding in the home of friend of a relative.

Faid, who broke out of jail once before in 2013, taking wardens hostage and blowing up the prison gate, faces life imprisonment for the repeat offence.

He has a history of robberies involving armoured vehicles and hostage-taking and at the time of the jailbreak was already serving a 25-year sentence for a botched heist in which a policewoman got killed.

Eleven suspected accomplices, including members of his family, are on trial alongside Faid, charged with helping him in the escape and during the subsequent three months it took police to catch him.

Access to the court room was under special protection on Tuesday and mobile phone signals scrambled, officials said.

Faid made no statements to investigators in the run-up to the trial, except to say he was sorry that his accomplices had been caught up in the trial.

Reau prison has since installed security lines over the courtyard to prevent any more jailbreaks by air.