By Euan McKirdy, Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Frank Andrews
PARIS (CNN) – Thieves armed with axes stole at least 4 million euros ($4.8 million) worth of jewels from a shop inside the Ritz Hotel in central Paris, according to French police.
The five men, who were wearing hoods, entered the lobby of the famous hotel on the Place Vendome from the hotel’s rear entrance at around 6.30 p.m. local time (12.30 p.m. ET) Wednesday. Three of the thieves were arrested shortly after, but the two others escaped and remain at large.
Niki Lazar, a 21-year-old woman from Chicago, told CNN that she was having a drink with her parents in the Ritz’s Hemingway Bar when she saw a man wearing a ski mask run into the hotel.
“(He) ran right from the back door of the bar to the front, right past my father. He had an ax in his hand,” she said. “Immediately the bartender closed and locked the door and (corralled) everyone to the back kitchen area of the bar.”
Along with shouts and screams from outside the room, Lazar claimed they heard “at least 10 rounds of gunfire” before taking cover behind the bar, where they remained hidden for several minutes. Lazar added that she later saw one of the bartenders “being tended to by a paramedic.”
The Ritz Hotel is situated in the Place Vendome in the first arrondissement (or district) of Paris, where several popular city landmarks including the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries are located.
It’s a bold location for thieves to strike given that the Ministry of Justice is right next door to the opulent five-star hotel. A handful of high-end boutiques can be found nearby in the enclosed square.
Gang trapped after alarm triggered
Hotel security managed to trigger an automatic locking system during the heist, locking three of the robbers inside, Jean-FranÃ§ois Legaret, the mayor of Paris’ 1st district, told CNN on Thursday.
Police officers then entered the hotel from the back and were able to arrest the three men before they left the building, with a Paris Prefecture spokesperson saying that they fired at the suspects with “Taser-type guns.” The three suspects were in their twenties.
The two other men escaped with the jewels, French police told CNN. Authorities couldn’t confirm if they got away with everything that they attempted to steal.
The Prefecture said one man appeared to be waiting for them at an exit, and that he and another suspect escaped on scooter via rue Cambon. The scooter hit a passerby, who was not hospitalized.
Wine merchant Edouard Margain posted a photo of the crime scene that he took from his office on social media.
“Just saw a guy arrested while trying to take the street on the wrong way on a scooter, then dozens of cops in the street and medicals in just a few minutes after,” Margain told CNN.
It was the second major jewel heist in a major European city in a week.
Last week thieves made a daytime heist of valuable jewels from the Qatari royal collection at an exhibition in Venice, Italy. Local officials said the jewels were of “indisputably elevated value.”
That robbery occurred at the Doge’s Palace, a popular tourist spot in Venice, where the selection of Indian jewelry was on display to the public. One suspect may have acted as a lookout while the other grabbed the jewels from a display case, police said.
The stolen items included a pair of earrings and a brooch made of diamonds, gold and platinum.
Another Paris heist that likewise can be placed in the brazen category involved Kim Kardashian West. In October 2016, she was robbed at gunpoint inside her room at a luxury private mansion by a gang of men disguised as police officers. They made off with an estimated $10 million in cash and jewelry.
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