French police say they are hunting for four men suspected of stealing gold dust worth an estimated 1.5 million euros from an armored truck Monday before setting cars ablaze near a major highway and fleeing.

 

PARIS — French police say they are hunting for four men suspected of stealing gold dust worth an estimated 1.5 million euros from an armored truck Monday before setting cars ablaze near a major highway and fleeing.

The suspects, operating in multiple cars, surrounded the armored truck and forced it off the A6 highway between Paris and Lyon, a national gendarme service spokesman and a judicial official said.

They then seized the gold, locked the two delivery men in the back of the truck, and set one of their own cars on fire before fleeing, according to the spokesman.

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He said the flames spread to three cars nearby and were threatening to engulf the armored truck as well, but local police intervened thanks to a tipoff from a witness and rescued the two men in time. The other cars were unoccupied, the judicial official said.

Police vehicles and a helicopter searched the surrounding fields and forests Monday near the southeastern town of Dardilly, the spokesman said. The spokesman and judicial official spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to give details about an ongoing investigation.

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Scientific police studied the charred hulls of the cars and the empty truck, operated by security company Loomis.

The company said in a statement that the cargo was destined for industrial use. The team driving the truck “fully respected procedures,” the head of Loomis France, Michel Tresch, was quoted as saying.

While France occasionally sees big jewel thefts and has seen a couple of high-profile highway heists, it’s rare to see a large-scale gold robbery like this, gendarmes said.

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The judicial official said about 70 kilograms of gold dust were stolen worth an estimated 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million). He said it appeared to be an organized crime gang, but said the identities of the attackers are unclear. He would not release details about who owned the gold dust or where it had been headed.