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Police in France and Belgium were intensively searching Sunday for a dangerous convicted bank robber who dynamited his way out of a French prison on the weekend with the help of as-yet unidentified accomplices.
A Europe-wide alert for the fugitive, 40-year-old Redoine Faid, is in effect, as is an Interpol bulletin, and France has set more than 100 investigators on his trail.
Faid, who was serving time for past robberies and who risked a heavy sentence over the 2010 death of a policewoman, used explosives to blast his way out of the Sequedin penitentiary just 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the Belgian border.
Armed with a pistol, he briefly took four guards hostage for his escape.
All the hostages were released unharmed. The first getaway car was found burnt along the highway, where Faid is believed to have switched to a second vehicle.
The spectacular jailbreak was reminiscent of a Hollywood movie -- the sort of film Faid told an interviewer three years ago he used as an "instruction manual" on how to stage his equally dramatic heists.
French police, though, remain stumped as to how Faid got his hands on the weapon and the explosives.
His brother, who visited the prison the morning of the escape, was kept in detention for questioning all day Sunday, but was finally released when investigators confirmed he had had no contact with Faid.
"It's a painstaking investigation that has started. Obviously, he (Faid) had one or several accomplices. The role of the investigators is to work out how he was able to possess explosives and a weapon in prison," the prosecutor for the northern French city of Lille, Frederic Fevre, said.
A spokeswoman for Belgian Federal Police, Kaatje Natens, said roadblocks had not been ordered but that train stations and airports were being closely watched.
French officials have warned that Faid, who grew up in tough immigrant suburbs outside of Paris, is considered armed and "especially dangerous".
His lawyer said Faid was a very intelligent man with good connections.
Faid was in prison since mid-2011 for breaking the terms of his parole over past convictions for bank robberies and brazen heists of cash-in-transit vehicles.
He is suspected of being the mastermind of a May 2010 armed robbery that turned into a gunfight in which a young policewoman was killed.
Evidence was being gathered to try him for that crime, which would have kept him in jail for decades if convicted.
He had been released from a previous stint of a decade behind bars after convincing parole officials that he regretted his criminal past and was determined to start afresh.
Faid co-authored two books, about his delinquent youth and rise as a criminal in Paris's impoverished suburbs.
He said his life of crime was inspired by American films such as "Scarface" and "Heat" -- where Robert De Niro's armoured car heist has been cited as the model for real life attacks in South Africa, Colombia and other countries.
French authorities insist that there was no fault on the part of prison workers for Faid's escape, emphasising its meticulously planned nature.
Faid launched his jailbreak early Saturday morning, while he was in a visitor's room. Armed with the firearm and explosives, he took four guards hostage and in about half an hour blasted his way out of the prison, where an accomplice was waiting in a vehicle.