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February 19, 2013

Daring Heist Nets Millions in Diamonds

by VOA News

Eight masked gunmen made off with millions of dollars worth of diamonds in a daring heist February 19 at the Brussels airport in the biggest such airport robbery since 2005.

The men, who were armed with machine guns, were dressed in police uniforms. They arrived on the tarmac in two cars after breaking through a hole they’d made in an airport security fence.

Within five minutes, they’d taken the diamonds from a Swiss passenger plane and escaped without firing a shot. Both vehicles sped off after the robbery and one was later found burnt just outside of Brussels. The suspects are being sought by law enforcement officials.

"They were well prepared," Ine Van Wymersch, a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office, told Reuters. "There were passengers on the plane but they saw nothing of what was going on.”

Estimates on the value of the stolen diamonds range from $50 million to $350 million.

The Belgian city of Antwerp, some 50 kilometers from Brussesls, is the center of the world’s diamond industry, with 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds and 50 percent of the world’s polished diamonds passing through it.

Caroline De Wolf, a spokeswoman for The Antwerp World Diamond Centre, a trade body for Antwerp diamond businesses, said the lapse in security could be a blow to Antwerp’s diamond industry.

"This is causing quite some unrest," she told the Guardian. "It was incredible how easy it all went. This is worrying in terms of competitiveness, since other diamond centres are ready to pounce and take over our position."

In 2005, robbers made off with an estimated 75 million euros worth of diamonds at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. In 1983, an estimated $39 million worth of diamonds was stolen at London’s Heathrow Airport.