A notorious thief who was once France’s most wanted man pulled off a jailbreak on Sunday, fleeing a prison in the Paris area by helicopter, officials said.

Rédoine Faïd, 46, broke out of the prison in Réau in the capital’s south-eastern suburbs within minutes, helped by several heavily armed men, sources close to the case said.

He fled with three accomplices and the helicopter was later found in a north-eastern suburb of Paris, the sources said. A police search has been launched across the region.

It was the second time Faïd had pulled off a jailbreak – in 2013 he blasted his way out of a prison in northern France using dynamite but was found six weeks later.

Prior to this, he was released after a decade behind bars after convincing parole officials that he regretted his criminal past and was determined to start afresh.

An appeals court sentenced Faïd to 25 years in April for masterminding an armed robbery in May 2010 that turned into a gunfight, in which a police officer was killed.

Faïd, who grew up in tough Paris suburbs, has made several television appearances and co-authored two books about his delinquent youth and rise as a criminal.

He said his life of crime was inspired by American films such as Scarface and Heat.

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