- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

PARIS, March 12 (UPI) — Assailants, armed with rocket launchers, attacked a prison outside Paris with rocket launchers early Wednesday, freeing a veteran gangster in the latest, audacious jail break to occur in France.

Four or five accomplices of jailed gangster Antonio Ferrara, 29, attacked the prison of Fresnes with rockets at about 4 a.m., witnesses told French TV.

The prison doors were broken open from the outside, and the group fled in an Audi car, probably a stolen one, France 2 television reported. At least one of the assailants was wounded in the attack, the television station added, citing police sources.

Police found a cell phone and a detonator in Ferrara's cell, a spokeswoman for France's prisons told United Press International.

"The (prison) personnel responded with firearms, but the operation took place very, very quickly, and we don't know exactly if they hit the assailants or not," French Justice Minister Dominique Perben told Europe 1 radio. "They did the best work they could, but they weren't able to stop the evasion."

Perben said he would meet with prison directors Friday to improve the security of French jails.

Late last week, Joseph Menconi staged his own spectacular escape from a prison in Borgo, Corsica. Menconi was a close associate of Ferrara, also known himself as an accomplished escapee.

Another armed prison escape occurred in October.

Jailed in 1997 for a series of armed robberies, Ferrara took advantage of a hospital visit the following year to stage his first flight, with the aid of accomplices.

He was caught last summer, and sentenced to four years in prison for escaping. Days before the sentencing, officials found detonators and other suspicious material in his cell.

In January, a court of assizes condemned him to eight additional years in prison, for a 1997 bank robbery.

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