Armed “commandos” ambushed a Saudi prince's motorcade, stealing 250,000 euros in cash and “sensitive” diplomatic documents in France earlier this week.
The attack happened as the dozen vehicles were en route to Porte de la Chapelle, in northern Paris, from the luxurious George V hotel on the Champs Elysées late on Sunday evening.
Eight gunmen, travelling in two unmarked BMWs and reportedly armed with Kalashnikovs, seized the Mercedes mini-van carrying the money and documents, later releasing the driver and two others unharmed. No shots were fired.
Police union spokesman Rocco Contento, talking to BFM TV news, said the entire operation lasted just a few seconds, suggesting “a very organised and especially informed commando unit, who had information and accomplices.”
“As far as I am concerned, it looks very much like it could be commandos from eastern Europe, who we know about, who are often paid to do dirty work.” Contento said.
Nicolas Comte, secretary general of the main police union, Unité-SGP, described the attack as unusual.
Speaking to AFP, he said: “We have to establish whether it was the money or documents that were targeted.”
Another detective, talking to the Guardian, added: “If they were seeking sensitive information, the nature of the robbery changes. We’re no longer faced with organised bandits, but something more complicated.”
The Mercedes was heading to the city’s Le Bourget airport, which is often used for high-level visitors taking private jets to Paris, to deliver paperwork for the unnamed Saudi prince who has now left to an undisclosed location.
Members of the Saudi royal family often come to Paris for diplomatic or business visits.
According to the prosecutor’s office the burned shell of the stolen Mercedes was later discovered nearby the scene of the attack along with an abandoned car, believed to have belonged to the gunmen.
Two €500 notes, documents in Arabic and some medical drugs were later discovered near the abandoned cars.
A manhunt has now been launched across France in a bid to track down the thieves, although no arrests have yet been reported.
The French Foreign Ministry called the attack, coming at the height of tourist season in the French capital, "unacceptable." An investigation was opened for armed robbery in an organized gang.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy could not be reached for comment.