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A man convicted of murder has escaped from prison using a helicopter, France's Justice Ministry said.

The actual prison break took "a few minutes", according to France's Justice Ministry, but the plans had been unfolding all morning.

Thousands of French police across the country were on a massive manhunt Monday for a notorious gangster who once fled to Israel, after he pulled off a spectacular jailbreak Sunday, fleeing his prison aboard a hijacked helicopter in a commando-style operation.

Redoine Faid, 46, who previously said his life of crime was inspired by films such as Scarface, broke out of the prison with the help of three armed accomplices, according to sources close to the case. Back in 2013 he blasted out of jail using dynamite, he also took 4 prison wardens hostage during this attempt. He was recaptured six weeks later at a hotel in suburban Paris - but not before he briefly claimed the title of France's "public enemy number one", the Independent reported.

But in April, he was sentenced to 25 years for masterminding a May 2010 armed robbery that turned into a gunfight, killing a female police officer. Unarmed guards said they could do nothing to prevent it.

Drones seen buzzing above a prison months ago may have been on a reconnaissance mission ahead of the cinematic escape of a notorious French criminal - his second in five years.

Once they had their man in the helicopter they flew it right across the city of Paris before abandoning it near to the Charles de Gaulle Airport in the north east of the city.

The crime took place when Faid's brother was visiting him. Faid and his accomplices are believed to have ditched the airplane and escaped by auto.

The helicopter, the pilot of which was later released, was found burnt out north of Paris, as was a getaway auto.

Three masked gunmen armed with assault rifles landed a stolen helicopter at the prison and plucked Faid out at around 11:20 a.m. on Sunday.

Faid grew up in the French capital's tough immigrant suburbs.

In the 1990s, he led a gang involved in robbing banks and armored vans.

Although he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for these activities, he was released on parole after 10 years.