Charismatic, articulate and wearing well-cut suits, a smiling Redoine Faïd hit the French talk-show circuit two years ago, charming audiences with tales of his redemption from a life of crime and violence.
His smooth talk was just that. He was soon back in jail and, following a spectacular escape this weekend, Mr. Faïd is once again France's most wanted criminal.
Mr. Faïd is now wanted on a Europe-wide warrant. Embarrassed French officials were trying to find how he managed to access explosives and a firearm. Media and bloggers speculate whether he has left for Israel or Switzerland, where he had been a fugitive before.
The 40-year-old convict is a heist artist who says he learned his trade from Hollywood movies. His nickname is Doc, after Steve McQueen's convict character in The Getaway. He says that he learned how to rob an armoured car from the film director Michael Mann.
Mr. Faïd was in pre-trial custody in Sequedin in northern France, in connection with a botched robbery where a police woman approaching a suspicious van was shot dead by an AK-47 rifle.
On Saturday morning, while waiting for his brother in the prison's visiting area, Mr. Faïd took four guards hostages with a handgun and forced his way out, using explosives to blow up five armoured doors. The hostages were freed once he was outside and inside a getaway car, which was found abandoned and burned.
"All police services are now mobilized to find him as soon as possible. Nothing will be overlooked," local prosecutor Fréderic Fèvre told reporters.
Mr. Faïd grew up in Creil, 30 kilometres north of Paris, in one of the cités, the rundown high-rises that have become suburban immigrant ghettoes. A son of Algerian immigrants, he was the second youngest of 10 siblings.
He boasted that his life of crime started at age six, when he tried to steal a shopping cart loaded with candies.
In past interviews, he painted a heroic portrait of an emerging immigrant criminal class that was self-taught because it was ignored by traditional organized crime.
He said he saw Michael Mann's 1995 film Heat hundreds of times, dissecting the scene where Robert De Niro and his crew ambush an armoured car in Los Angeles and blast it open with explosives. While conducting his own heists, Mr. Faïd emulated the gang in Heat by wearing a hockey mask.
Other favourites he cited were Al Pacino's 1983 gangster movie, Scarface, and Point Break, where Patrick Swayze leads a bank-robbing gang. "When you're a gangster, you don't watch Pretty Woman," Mr. Faïd told a TV interviewer.
Incredibly, the authorities had previously investigated Mr. Faïd for an escape attempt.
He was wanted for several armed robberies, including a bank hostage-taking. For three years he was on the run, hiding in Israel and Switzerland before being arrested in 1998 in France.
While he was behind bars, in 2004, police intercepted calls he made from a smuggled cellphone, where he plotted an escape, telling underlings to sell stolen cars and use the money to purchase guns and explosives.
Still, he was released on parole in 2009 and the following year, he published a book with a crime reporter, Jérôme Pierrat, Braqueur: Des cités au grand banditisme (Bank Robber: From the ghetto to the mob), where he answered questions about his career in crime.
This gave him the chance to appear on TV talk shows, where he portrayed himself as being rehabilitated, saying that his "demons are dead" and that he didn't want to glamourize crime.
And yet he spoke proudly of the months of planning he would invest before robbing an armoured truck, how he meticulously mapped his target's route. "You become addicted to heists. You look for the adrenalin it gives you, your body needs it like a drug," he told the weekly Le Point.
He said that he was over the mobster fast life, the trips to Monaco and the fancy cars. He claimed that getting out of jail made him appreciated the simpler things in life, like sitting in a park drinking orange juice.
At the same time, he was still involved in crime, the police later alleged.
Just a few months after the book came out, Mr. Faïd was named as one of 27 wanted men in a May 2010 robbery attempt where gunmen chased by the police shot dead a 26-year-old traffic officer, Aurélie Fouquet.
Mr. Faïd was not directly involved in the fatal shootout but, according to French media report, he was alleged to be the gang's kingpin, based on surveillance videos that connected him with other suspects.
He was on the run for six months before he was arrested in June 2011 and his parole revoked. He was back behind bars until this weekend.