Amid gunfire and explosions, 'beautiful king' Antonio Ferrara escapes from Fresnes

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THE GREAT ESCAPE (5/5) On March 12, 2003, Antonio Ferrara, suspected of several robberies, escaped from Fresnes remand center. His accomplices attacked the prison with explosives and rocket launchers

Amid gunfire and explosions, the “king of beauty” Antonio Ferrara escapes from Fresnes

Investigators find clues, March 12, 2003, near a watchtower of the Fresnes prison, following the escape, a few hours earlier, of Antonio Ferrara. — François Mori

  • Are you dreaming of taking to the skies? Them too ! This summer, 20 Minutes delves into the most famous escapes in history.
  • For this fifth and last episode of our series “The Great Escape”, back in March 2003. Antonio Ferrara, an offender suspected by the police of holding up armored vans, escapes from the remand center in Fresnes, in the Val -de-Marne.
  • He was helped by a dozen accomplices, members of organized crime, who blew up the prison doors and sprayed the watchtowers with their automatic weapons. “Nino”, as he was nicknamed, would be arrested four months later.

The attack was filmed by a witness, awakened in the middle of the night by the detonations and the crack of the bullets. The windows of this young father overlook the prison of Fresnes (Val-de-Marne), targeted by a dozen heavily armed men. Around 4 a.m. on March 12, 2003, camcorder in hand, he watched in amazement as the members of the commando fired their Kalashnikovs at the watchtowers of the prison, and blew up the walls of the prison. establishment under the clamor of the prisoners. He attends, without knowing it, to one of the most spectacular recent escapes in France, that of the robber Antonio Ferrara, alias Nino.

Born in October 1973 at; Cassino, Italy, Antonio Ferrara grew up in; Choisy-le-Roi, in the Val-de-Marne. At 21, his legal troubles begin. Sentenced for two outrages and rebellion, the Italian was sentenced in 1994 to a few months in prison. Three years later, he turns a corner by robbing a branch of the Société general, to Soisy-sur-Seine (Essonne), with a gun. He is arrested in 1998 and placed in pre-trial detention. At 23, this is his second time behind bars. It will be brief. A few weeks after his arrival at Fleury-Mérogis, Nino benefits from a transfer to the hospital of Corbeil-Essonnes and is beautiful. For this escape, he was sentenced to five years in prison, on appeal, in 2003.

A talented artificer

The police suspect Ferrara of having, during this first run, climbed the ladder of organized crime. “He played in the big leagues when he was very young,” 20 Minutes journalist Brendan Kemmet, co-author, with Matthieu Suc, of the book Antonio Ferrara, the king of beauty*. “The more established thugs” appreciate “his mentality”. They consider him to be “very serious”, “reliable”, “hardworking” clever, “faithful,” he continues. It was these qualities, the investigators believed, “that enabled him to be adopted. by large robbery teams” of vans, he who until then was only “soupçon” what a lot of bank robberies.” “He had brought together, through his charisma, his side friendly, his intelligence, his availability, different groups, Corsicans, people from Val-de-Marne, Seine-Saint-Denis.”

Amid shootings and explosions, the “king of beauty” Antonio Ferrara escapes from Fresnes

Undated photo by Antonio Ferrara. – Judicial Police

At the time, attacks by cash carriers were commonplace. “It was a national problem,” recalls Brendan Kemmet. Toulouse, Gentilly… Nino’s shadow looms over a series of armored van attacks, each more spectacular than the next. “Investigators believed they had identified his modus operandi, his way of proceeding on the shields,” says the journalist. Ferrara would have a reputation in the industry for being a talented pyrotechnician. The Italian is said to be best known for mastering the so-called “frame explosive” technique, used to pierce the armor of vehicles carrying cash, without risking them to explode. The inventor of this process, a thug from Marseilles, would have trained Ferrara. And the latter, according to rumour, would have practiced in car scrapyards.

Elevator forwarding

His escape lasted four years, until July 13, 2002. That day, the police officers of the OCRB [Central Office for the Repression of Banditry] found him and arrested him at the police station. Athis-Mons. Back in prison, at Fresnes this time. In the shadows, his accomplices prepare his escape. Why take so many risks? Out of interest, perhaps. Out of friendship and respect, no doubt. Among the members of the commando, several Corsicans, who intend to “return the favor” to Nino. “It is rumored that Ferrara would have been involved,” at the time, at an escape attempt by Jacques Mariani [a figure of Corsican banditry, member of the Sea Breeze gang]. Everyone was deflated except him,” said Brendan Kemmet.

The plan, drawn up meticulously, is updated. execution on that famous cold night in March 2003. Around 4:15 a.m., the guards posted in the watchtowers were the targets of 7.2 millimeter caliber assault rifle fire. The bullets pierce the armored windows. Armed with simple rifles, they can do nothing. The criminals wear balaclavas and are equipped with police armbands. Part of the commando takes advantage of the shooting to blow up the prison door. One of them is seriously injured. by the blast and lose an eye. They return to inside and fire a rocket launcher at a second door. They rush into the breach. The disciplinary section of the prison is then in front of them.

Twelve minutes

It’s there; where is Nino. Two days earlier, the inmate refused to an excavation at; body after a visit with his lawyer. It has been sanctioned and placed at the mitard. In reality, it’s a ploy itself: the building is located at only about fifteen meters from the rear wall of the prison. He also procured a cell phone to communicate with his accomplices, and explosives. He uses it, during the attack, to blow up the window of his cell and get away. Twelve minutes after the start of the assault, Ferrara and his accomplices slip into the two cars which were waiting for them a little further on. To slow down the first police patrols, they set fire to several vehicles parked outside. proximity of the prison, known until then; very secure.

Amid gunfire and explosions, the “king of beauty” Antonio Ferrara escaped. Chappe de Fresnes

Investigators found clues on March 12, 2003, on the back door of the Fresnes remand center, near the town hall. the continuation of the escape, a few hours earlier, of Antonio Ferrara

Ferrara’s escape is front page news. Then Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy made the arrest of the Italian “the priority. number 2”, after that of Yvan Colonna. Nino spends part of his run under the sun of Saint-Raphaël, in the Var. It nevertheless ends up going back to Paris, where the police are waiting for him. For what purpose? “The big thugs are at comfortable in their territory. He was the southern suburbs, Mesrine the north of Paris. They have their friends, their landmarks, they know the place by heart. They feel less vulnerable,” breathes Brendan Kemmet. The journalist also thinks that Nino “fell down. a bit in a trap set to bring him back up.” On July 10, 2003, the fugitive was arrested. in a bar in the 12th arrondissement, the Peanut’s Café to two steps from the sports hall.

Nineteen years in prison

The former “King of the Escape” will be sentenced, in 2008, to seventeen years of imprisonment by the Court of Assizes of Paris for his escape from Fresnes. A penalty reduced to twelve years on appeal, two years later. He also received, in 2003, eight years in prison for the robbery of the Société. general of Soisy-sur-Seine, and, in 2004, eight others for attempted murder. But his criminal record is not really up to date. the height of his bandit reputation. It has been acquitted in almost all the cases that the police attribute to him: the attack on the Crédit Mutuel de Yerres in 1997, the post office in Joinville-le-Pont in 1999, a Brink’s van in ; Gentilly in 2000, and another from La Valiance in  Toulouse in 2001.

After passing Nineteen years behind bars, Nino was released from the Réau prison center, in Seine-et-Marne, in July 2022. “He was able to get out a little before the end of his sentence. the favor of a confusion of sentences,” his lawyer, Me Amar Bouaou, adding that his client had shown “exemplary behavior” during his detention. “He now aspires to live a normal life with his partner and his two children.”

*”Antonio Ferrara, the king of beauty”, by Brendan Kemmet and Matthieu Suc, 2008, Editions du Cherche Midi, 420 pages, 19.90 euros.