Detectives say the men entered the Ritz on rue Cambon, near the Place Vendôme, at around 6.30pm. They reportedly smashed several display windows inside the hotel with the axes and grabbed the jewels, stuffing them into bags before leaving.
Witnesses said staff in the hotel’s Hemingway bar told terrified guests to get down on the floor for their safety as the robbers struck. Other guests took refuge in the hotel kitchen.
“We heard a loud noise and lots of racket in the street,” one hotel employee told AFP. “Passers-by took refuge in the hotel. We didn’t know what was going on until someone told us there had been a robbery.”
Witnesses said at least 10 shots were fired, and hotel guests reported seeing one Ritz employee injured.
However, French police said there had been no injuries. A police officer said the exact value of the jewellery stolen in the heist was not known, but was thought to be “several million euros”. Le Parisien newspaper reported that the three arrested suspects were well known to police.
French writer Frédéric Beigbeder was among guests drinking in the Hemingway bar at the time of the attack. He told journalists he took refuge in the basement.
Gérard Collomb, the French interior minister, praised the police response following the arrests. “Armed robbery at the Ritz: three of the presumed thieves already arrested by police from the 2nd arrondissement. Their sang froitd, their professionalism and their quick reactions do the police proud. I am grateful to them,” Collomb tweeted.
The Ritz is owned by billionaire Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al Fayed. Diana, Princess of Wales died in a high-speed car crash shortly after leaving the hotel with Al Fayed’s son Dodi in August 1997.
Security was stepped up in and around Place Vendôme in 2014 after a series of thefts on luxury shops and jewellers in the square, which is also home to France’s Ministry of Justice.
The French capital’s most high-profile recent jewellery theft was carried out in October 2016, when jewellery worth 10 million euros was stolen from US reality television star Kim Kardashian.
Five men, some wearing jackets with police insignia, held her at gunpoint, making off with several pieces of gold and diamond jewellery.
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