Armed robbers broke into the Maastricht art and antiques fair in the Netherlands, one of the largest in the world, in broad daylight on Tuesday and smashed a jeweler’s window with a sledgehammer.
Police said they stopped a car and arrested two Belgians after four men in smart clothes, caps and glasses robbed TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) in the south-west of the Netherlands.
Dramatic video shared on social media shows the four men pounding a TEFAF storefront with sledgehammers and threatening the crowd with what appear to be handguns, before they are dealt with an unknown quantity of what police are calling “loot.” escape.
“There were four suspects, two were arrested,” Wim Coenen, spokesman for the Limburg provincial police, told AFP.
The theft led to the site being cleared, but the fair, which has drawn tens of thousands of people over several days, has finally reopened. No one was injured, police said.
According to Dutch media, the shop window attacked by the burglars contained diamond jewelery and other treasures from London jewelers Symbolic and Chase. The company did not respond.
Police confirmed in a statement that “jewellery was stolen” without giving further details.
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Dutch police launched an extensive search using a helicopter and sniffer dogs and quickly arrested two men aged 22 and 26 from Belgium.
They were driving a Belgian-registered gray vehicle that was intercepted and their “possible involvement is still under investigation,” police said.
TEFAF is one of the world’s largest art fairs, presenting hundreds of works including a painting by a great 17th-century Dutch master, which is being exhibited for one million euros.
Footage circulating on social media shows the four thieves amid the chaos they caused at the fair. One of them slammed a jewelry case to the ground and banged what appeared to be bulletproof glass at least 12 times while the alarm was sounding.
The grounded man finally managed to break through the display case and reach inside to take something out and put it in a pocket. Then the thieves ran away, passing a stunned old man who was forced to sit on a bench during these events.
Two of the men pointed what appeared to be pistols at a man who was trying to get in, armed with a large glass vase filled with flowers, before backing away from the threat.
Jos Stassen, a visitor, came on Tuesday hoping to admire artworks in peace. “Suddenly I heard a lot of noise, I turned around and suddenly I saw these men,” he told public radio NOS, adding that the robbers “kept people at a distance” and “scare everyone”.
“It happened very quickly (…) but I’m still shaking a little,” he added.
The owners of the destroyed stand were “very shocked,” said trade fair director Bart Drenth of the Dutch press agency ANP.
Despite the incident, he said security protocol worked well and police were on the scene “within minutes”.
The phrase “Peaky Blinders” went viral on Dutch social media because the hats worn by the thieves resembled those worn by the British crime gang of the same name, made famous by a series of the same name.
This isn’t the first time TEFAF has been targeted by criminals.
In 2011, a diamond and a diamond-set necklace worth €860,000 were stolen from a jeweler in London.