Armed Men Speed Off With $9.5M in Jewels After Night-time Ambush on French Highway

At least 15 attackers were said to be involved in the heist, the latest in a string of high value jewel thefts in France in recent years.

by Giulia Aloisio Rafaiani
Mar 11 2015, 4:00pm

Photo via Reuters

Armed men have stolen jewels worth at least 9 million euros ($9.5m) from two high security vans in France, in an ambush involving at least 15 attackers at a highway toll booth in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The vehicles, provided by the French transport company Temis, were traveling from Paris to Besançon on the A6 highway that connects Paris and Lyon when the heist — involving 15 attackers — took place.

According to the French police, the men forced the drivers out of the vans and then sped away.

French radio Europe 1 reports that the attackers were hooded and carrying automatic weapons when they stopped the vans at the toll gate of Avallon.

French motorway group APRR said that the vans were found abandoned and burned by the gendarmerie later on Wednesday morning, in a forest in the area of Quenne.

Officials said jewels, diamonds and art pieces were stolen in the heist.

An anonymous police officer told AP that the armed men drove away from the toll gate in the vans and their four cars; the vans' drivers were left unharmed.

Experts from the Forensic Sciences Institute of the French Gendarmerie (FSIFG) were examining samples found aboard the abandoned vans. Officers launched a manhunt in the surrounding area, but hours later had failed to locate the robbers.

Wednesday's attack is the latest in a series of jewel heists in France in recent years.

Last February, eight men were convicted in relation to two jewel thefts that took place at a Harry Winston boutique in Paris in October 2007 and October 2008. In 2007, robbers entered the shop pretending to be decorators, while the 2008 attack was carried out by male assailants dressed as women. In total, they stole almost 95 million euros ($100m).

In November 2014, two gunmen robbed a Cartier boutique close to the Champs Elysees in Paris and took a hostage while escaping from the police across the Seine; the men were surrounded after few hours and arrested.

In July 2013, the biggest jewel heist in French history took place in Cannes, at the Carlton International Hotel. An armed man walked into a jewelry show and made off with a haul worth 125 million euros ($137m), disappearing in a side road within seconds.

Main photo: the burned out vans found abandoned in a forest in Quenne.