Heavily armed robbers disguised as police stole millions of dollars worth of diamonds from a Belgian airport Monday night without firing a shot, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In two cars, the eight robbers pulled along side a Swiss-bound airplane in the Brussels airport around 8 p.m. local time Monday night, took more than 120 packages of diamonds from the plane while holding up security with machine guns, and sped away through a hole in the security fence, according to Belgian authorities.
"It was well-prepared and very professional," Belgium prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch told WSJ. "The whole operation took just a few minutes."
The suspects went to great lengths to mimic Belgian law enforcement. They wore police uniforms and the armbands of airport police and drove a black Mercedes van and a black Audi A8 sedan, each equipped with blue lights—the same models used by Belgian authorities.
The diamonds were en route to Switzerland from Antwerp, where eight of every 10 uncut diamonds in the world pass through it at some point, according to Reuters.
Appraisals of the total worth of the haul vary. A WSJ source estimated the diamonds were worth $350 million, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp Diamond Center told Reuters about $50 million, and Belgian news agency VRT estimated 350 million Euros, or about $467 million, according to the Financial Times.
If the precise figure falls anywhere near that range, the heist would be one of the most lucrative diamond robberies of all time. Here's a list of the seven biggest diamond heists in recent memory, in some of these instances the thieves and the diamonds remain at large:
Antwerp Diamond Center heist: In 2003, a group of Italian thieves known as the "The School of Turin" broke into the underground vault of the Antwerp Diamond Center, then protected by infrared heat detectors, sophisticated locks, and eight other layers of security. Despite this, the gang successfully looted 123 of the vault's 160 safes without setting off any alarms or leaving behind any signs of forced entry—security did not notice until the following day.
Estimated haul: $100+ million
Paris Harry Winston's heist: In a high stakes smash-and-grab, four men wearing wigs and female clothing entered a Harry Winston jewelry store in a posh Paris neighborhood in 2008 and stripped it bare. French authorities believe it was an inside job—the robbers called store employees by their first names and knew exactly where to find its secret storage boxes, according to The Guardian.
Estimated haul: $102 million
Amsterdam airport hijacking: Monday night's heist in Brussels mirrored a similar job from 2005, when men stole a Dutch airline vehicle at the Amsterdam airport and drove it straight to a diamond-loaded truck in the cargo area. The two men reportedly held up the truck's driver, hijacked the truck, and drove away.
Estimated haul: $77 million
Cannes hotel jewelry store robbery: In another French smash-and-grab in 1994, three masked men burst into the jewelry store of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France shooting machine guns. The men made away with some $60 million in jewels, and French authorities later determined the guns had been firing blanks, according to CNN.
Estimated haul: $60 million
Pink Panthers Graff's Diamonds heist: Two sharply-dressed men arrived by taxi to a Graff's Diamonds in London in 2009 and robbed it of 43 different pieces of jewelry, according to The Telegraph. The men, part of the infamous "Pink Panthers" robbery crew, brandished handguns and took hostages in the store, before driving off in a series of getaway cars. Theirs is considered the largest jewel heist in British history.
Estimated haul: $53 million
Antwerp Bank heist: A man who called himself Carlos Hector Flomenbaum ingratiated himself with the staff of an ABM Amro bank in Antwerp, Belgium. Under that identity the suspect was a regular customer of the bank and a trusted diamond trader, which allowed him access to the vault. One Monday the bank discovered the man had made off with 120,000 carats worth of diamonds over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.
Estimated haul: $28 million
Pink Panthers' Comtesse de Vedome heist: Before the "Pink Panthers" cleaned out Graff's Diamonds of London, the crew reportedly lifted the Comtesse de Vendome necklace from a Tokyo jewelry store. The gold necklace, which was encrusted with 116 diamonds, was estimated to be worth somewhere between $24 and $31 million.
Estimated haul: $24 million