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31 detained in probe of $50M Belgium diamond heist

LONDON — Thirty-one people have been arrested in a three-country sweep tied to a spectacular $50 million diamond heist at a Belgian airport in February, officials said Wednesday.

More than 250 officers with the Belgian federal police and the country's special branches fanned out across Brussels early Wednesday, conducting 40 house searches and arresting 24 suspects. A day earlier, six people in Switzerland were taken into custody, as was one in France who authorities believe was among the masked thieves who took the gems from a jet at Brussels Airport.

At least some of the stolen diamonds have been recovered in Switzerland, as well as a stash of money and some luxury cars in Belgium, said Anja Bijnens, a prosecutor in Brussels.

The movie-style caper was one of the most brazen and daring in years.

The Helvetic Airways jet was ready for takeoff to Zurich, Switzerland, on the evening of Feb. 18. As flight attendants went through final safety checks on board, Brinks security guards outside finished unloading a shipment of cut and uncut diamonds from their armored car and onto the plane.

Suddenly, what looked like two police vehicles raced up to the aircraft, blue lights flashing. Eight armed men jumped out, wearing police uniforms but also balaclavas that hid their faces.

After prying open the door to the plane's hold, the group snatched about 120 packages and then sped away without firing a shot.

The heist lasted about five minutes. The plane's passengers saw nothing.

31 detained in probe of $50M Belgium diamond heist 05/08/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 11:09pm]
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