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French Highway Heist: Armed Thieves Take Millions In Jewels

A French gendarme stands guard Wednesday in Avallon after thieves attacked two armored vans carrying jewels overnight.

French police say two armored trucks carrying jewels and other items worth some $9.5 million were seized by more than a dozen armed attackers Wednesday, in a midnight heist that took place on the A6 highway that runs between Paris and Lyon.

Authorities were hunting for the thieves Wednesday, focusing on an area around the crime that took place about 140 miles southeast of Paris.

The heist was timed to coincide with the trucks' stop at a toll booth, where gunmen overcame the shipment's drivers, who were reportedly unarmed. The drivers were left uninjured.

The thieves were armed with Kalashnikov-style rifles and drove away in the two trucks and "powerful cars," news site Lyonne reports. The trucks were later found in a field nearby, where they had been burned.

From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports:

"The case is reminiscent of heists by a group of jewel thieves from the Balkans known as the Pink Panther gang.

"The Pink Panther network has been linked to a series of jewel thefts that international police agency Interpol says have netted more than $350 million since 1999.

"France has seen repeated jewelry thefts. Just last month, eight people were convicted in connection with a 2008 heist at a Harry Winston boutique in Paris, when three cross-dressing gunmen stole about $92 million in goods."

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