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French police were hunting Monday for four men suspected of forcing an armored truck off a road and stealing $1.6 million in gold dust before leaving the scene in flames.
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 escaping, according to the spokesman.
“All of the cars were burnt, either to erase any evidence or to create a traffic jam and obstruct anyone trying to chase them," police squadron chief Oliver Rigal said, according to Reuters.
A tipoff from a witness helped police intervene and rescue the two men in time. The other cars at the scene were unoccupied, a judicial official told The Associated Press.
Police vehicles and a helicopter searched the surrounding fields and forests Monday near the town of southeastern town of Dardilly. The spokesman and judicial official spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to give details about an ongoing investigation.
Scientific police studied the charred hulls of the cars and the empty truck, operated by security company Loomis.
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.
The judicial official said about 70 kilograms of gold dust were stolen worth an estimated $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.
The brazen heist comes nearly two weeks after a video surfaced of a man swiping $1.6 million in gold flakes from the back of an armored truck in New York City.
In that incident, on Sept. 29, the unidentified man took a bucket from the truck while it was parked outside jewelry stores on a block in Manhattan. The video shows that the bandit acted while one guard was walking to the front of the truck and the other was making a pickup.
Back in France, masked robbers in November held up two Qatari women in a chauffeur-driven Bentley north of Paris and took more than $5.3 million in jewelry and valuables, the AFP reports.
In March 2015, a group of around 15 robbers also held up two vans at a toll booth near the city of Auxerre, stealing an estimated $9.5 million in jewelry.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.