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Rédoine Faïd, notorious French gangster, wants his day in court – on his terms

A reproduction of Interpol's website showing the search sheet for French armed robber Rédoine Faïd, who escaped from prison in Réau (Seine-et-Marne) on July 1, 2018.
A reproduction of Interpol's website showing the search sheet for French armed robber Rédoine Faïd, who escaped from prison in Réau (Seine-et-Marne) on July 1, 2018. INTERPOL/AFP/Archives

Rédoine Faïd, the infamous armed robber who twice broke out of French jails, is staging a hunger strike and did not appear in court Thursday for the opening of his appeal of his conviction for a 2011 armoured-car robbery near Arras, France.

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If Faïd, who refused to leave his prison cell, does not relent, he could be removed by force, or the trial could go on in his absence, French daily Le Figaro reported, saying that the 47-year-old objects to the conditions of his imprisonment.

Le Figaro also reported that one of Faïd’s lawyers, Yasmina Belmokthar, said that he, a week into his hunger strike and facing hour-long trips to the site of the appeal court in Saint-Omer, has been denied “the power to express himself”.

Sylvie Karas, the appeal court's president, dryly remarked that Faïd was at least theoretically available for an appearance: “I don’t think he’s free…saving a breakout.”

Escape artist

Faïd is notorious in France for two widely-publicised jailbreaks.

In July 2018, he broke out of Réau Prison south of Paris with the help of two accomplices who used smoke bombs and angle grinders to make their way into the facility's visiting room – after first disembarking from a hijacked helicopter that landed in the prison’s courtyard.

Police found the helicopter north of Paris, and arrested Faïd three months later in Creil, his hometown.

In April 2013, Faïd used explosives to blow open gates and took four wardens hostage to escape from Sequedin Prison in northern France. One of the wardens was released just outside the prison, another a few hundred metres away and the final two were left along a motorway. All were reportedly in shock, but unharmed.

Faïd was arrested the following month. In March 2017, he received a 10-year sentence for that prison break.

Faïd had been sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in 1999 after three years on the run for an attack on an armored car, but was paroled a decade later. It was during this time that he was linked to the 2010 armed robbery that killed 26-year-old French police officer Aurélie Fouquet.

In July 2011 Faïd was taken back into custody for failing to comply with the terms of his release and ordered to serve out the remainder of his previous 18-year sentence. Faïd was later convicted of masterminding the robbery in which Fouquet was killed and, after an appeal, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Infamous robber, celebrated author

Faïd wrote that he discovered his "calling" at the age of 12, having, he claimed, already stolen candy from a supermarket at the age of six.

In 2010, he co-authored a book about his adventures entitled “Braqueur: Des cites au grand banditisme” (Armed Robber: From housing estates to organised crime) in which he detailed his delinquent youth and life as a criminal in Paris's impoverished crime-ridden suburbs.

He cites American films such as "Scarface" and "Heat" as inspiration for his exploits.

"Movies for me were like a user's guide for armed robbery," he told the LCI news channel when the book, which features a blurb from Heat’s director Michael Mann on its cover, was released.

In the prepossessing headshots of the convicted criminal and author online, including one from an Interpol web page in late 2012 or early-to-mid 2013, Faïd looks into the camera, his right eyebrow a bit higher than his left, his closed mouth slightly stretched into the beginning of a smile.

His open, assured gaze suggests that he knows something, or has something to share.

The question that lingers is whether that involves the taking of an innocent life in the 2010 robbery that killed Fouquet. In 2018, Faïd’s one-time lawyer, Christian Saint-Palais, told French daily Le Parisien that his client has “always contested his involvement in this story”.

Faïd’s conviction in that case stands; the appeal in Saint-Omer is for another robbery the year after.

The question now is whether Faïd will show up, willingly or not.

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