Police are in search of a notorious French fugitive who broke out of prison in an organised escape after briefly taking several wardens hostage, officials have said.
Redoine Faid, who was serving time for a series of armed robberies and the death of a policewoman, used explosives to blast through five prison doors and break free in the northern town of Sequedin on Saturday.
Christiane Taubira, France's justice minister, said interpol has been called into the investigation and that a continent-wide warrant had been issued against Faid.
"The hunt will initially focus on Belgium, of course, because we share a border but also extend to the entire Schengen area and beyond," she added.
Frederic Fevre, the state prosecutor, said Faid was a "particularly dangerous prisoner" and was still armed and in possession of explosives.
Police and helicopters are in search of the 40-year-old, who set fire to his getaway car near the city of Lille before getting into a second vehicle.
Fevre added that Faid had held four hostages with him during the jailbreak, releasing them individually as he got further away from the prison.
Wardens unions described the prison break as "an act of war" and also argued that the Sequedin jail was inadequate for such dangerous convicts.
"This escape and hostage-taking were methodically prepared," the CGT union said, complaining that searches on detainees were not thorough enough.
Taubira denied that there had been any "fault" on the part of the wardens in the dramatic episode.
A witness to the incident described the chaos caused by Faid's sprint to freedom.
"I thought my last hour had come. Suddenly, everything started blowing up. The walls started shaking, as did the windows and the doors. I was really scared," Rose Lafont, who was visiting her son, said.
Etienne Dobremetz, the prison union leader, said Faid had received a visit from his wife earlier on Saturday morning.
Her lawyer denied any suspicion of involvement in her husband's escape, the AFP news agency reported.
"It happened very quickly. It was clearly very well organised. We are still busy putting the facts together," a local administrative official said.
The Sequedin prison is designed for 638 inmates and currently houses some 800 detainees with 220 guards, according to the Ufap-Unsa union.
Faid, who has co-authored two books about his life as a criminal, was described as his lawyer as an extremely intelligent and well-connected person.