Diamonds worth $50m stolen at Belgium airport

Police hunt for eight men after armed robbers stole jewels being loaded onto a plane on the runway in Brussels.

    Police are hunting for a gang who pulled off one of the largest-ever diamond robberies at Brussels Airport after driving onto the runway and hitting a security truck.

    Gems worth $50m were being loaded onto a Swiss aircraft bound for Zurich when the heavily armed robbers drove through barriers onto the tarmac to get airside.

    The pilot, co-pilot and staff from a Brink's armoured car that transported the gems were held up but "no shots were fired and no-one was injured," Anja Bijnens of the Brussels prosecutor's office said of the robbery that was over "within minutes."

    A burnt-out van was later found nearby.

    The gems taken "included rough stones as well as cut diamonds from Antwerp that were being transported to Zurich," said Caroline De Wolf, a spokeswoman from Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC).

    At least 120 packages, which were only part of the shipment, were reportedly seized by the robbers who were wearing police uniforms and carrying machine guns.

    'Hollywood style'

    The robbery, thought to have been committed by eight people, was "one of the biggest ever" said De Wolf, but gave no details as to who the shipment belonged to.

    Jan Van Der Cruysee, a Brussels Airport spokesman, likened the operation to a movie. 

    "They were extremely well organised, they were very fast military wise, Hollywood style," Van Der Cruysee told Al Jazeera.  

    According to the AWDC, the global diamond business is worth more than $60bn each year, with about $200m worth of stones moving in and out of Antwerp every day.

    The diamond community was "shocked by the brutal heist," said De Wolf in a subsequent statement. She said traders want "additional security measures" implemented at the airport.

    In February 2005, about $100m worth of diamonds and jewels being shipped to Antwerp were stolen in a KLM vehicle at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

    But the record for a theft of diamonds was in Belgium, in February 2003, when $133m worth of stones were stolen from the vault of the Antwerp Diamond Centre.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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