Heavily armed robbers have mounted a brazen attack on the motorcade of a Saudi prince in Paris, making off with 250,000 euros in cash and stealing diplomatic papers, French police said Monday.
The spectacular robbery took place in northern Paris late on Sunday as the motorcade was making its way from a plush hotel on the Champs Elysees to an airport in Le Bourget, said police, who confirmed there were no injuries.
A gang of "between five and eight" thieves in two BMWs hijacked the first of around 10 vehicles in the convoy, driving off with the three occupants before letting them go, police said.
A police source and Le Parisien daily had said the men were armed with Kalashnikov rifles but an official later clarified to say they were carrying handguns.
The Saudis' Mercedes and one of the thieves' BMWs were later found abandoned and burned out in the village of Saint-Mesmes, to the northeast of Paris, approximately 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the scene of the crime.
Police found two 500-euro notes, documents in Arabic, and medication near the burnt-out wrecks of the two cars.
No suspects have yet been apprehended.
According to Le Parisien, the robbers made off with "sensitive" diplomatic documents.
A source close to the investigation confirmed the theft of diplomatic documents but told AFP: "For the moment, we have no details about the nature of these documents. They could be sensitive documents but they could equally well be unimportant."
The Saudi embassy in Paris put out a statement, carried by the official SPA agency in Saudi Arabia, saying that the vehicle was "hired by a Saudi citizen" and was not an embassy car.
However, the embassy said it had "helped the citizen until he left Paris."
The Saudi embassy said it was co-operating with French authorities on the matter but embassy spokespeople could not be reached for comment.
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Romain Nadal, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry said only: "An investigation is under way into this unacceptable attack."
- 'Obviously well-informed' -
"It's quite an unusual attack. They were obviously well-informed. It's true that it's quite a rare way of operating," one police source told AFP.
The head of a national police union, Nicolas Comte, said: "We need to find out what they were looking for, the money or the documents."
"I hope we will also have efficient cooperation with the Saudi authorities," he added.
The investigation has been turned over to the BRB special police unit in charge of armed robberies.
One source close to the investigation, who did not wish to be named, said: "If they were looking for sensitive documents, that changes the nature of the crime."
"It will no longer be an armed robbery, but something more complicated," the source added.
Initial results of the investigation have revealed that the robbers were obviously "aware of what they would find by attacking that specific car and not the others," he added.
Frederic Lagache, from the Alliance police union, said: "We're dealing with a heavily armed and determined group of criminals."
"Once again, unfortunately, we see that these individuals had no fear of the police and were not concerned about the consequences of their actions."