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Thieves use a sledgehammer to smash a display case before making off with jewellery in Holland

Smartly dressed armed robbers carried out a brutal daylight raid on an international art fair in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht today, in which the thieves used a sledgehammer to cut their way into a jewelry display case before fleeing.

Police said on Tuesday they have arrested two suspects and are on the hunt for two more after the robbery that led to terrified visitors being evacuated from the city’s prestigious European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF).

Dutch media said the display case targeted by the robbers contained diamond jewelery and other items from London jeweler Symbolic and Chase.

Dramatic videos show the four suspects wearing flat caps, glasses and jackets threatening visitors with what appeared to be pistols during the robbery before running away.

The term ‘Peaky Blinders’ started to become popular on social media in the Netherlands after the raid, because the caps the suspects wear resemble those in the British historical crime drama of the same name.

Video of the scene showed a man wearing a blazer and baseball cap using a sledgehammer to smash the glass display case of a jewelry store

The man is seen repeatedly beating the display case while three other men, also dressed in blazers, stand guard around him - one of whom appears to be holding a gun

Video of the scene showed a man wearing a blazer and baseball cap using a sledgehammer to smash the glass display case of a jewelry store (left). The man is seen repeatedly in the display case while three other men, also dressed in blazers, stand guard around him – one of whom appears to be holding a gun (right)

The armed robbers destroyed the showcase of a jewelry stall at the stock exchange on Tuesday

The armed robbers destroyed the showcase of a jewelry stall at the stock exchange on Tuesday

Dutch police officers stand guard at the entrance of the TEFAF Art Fair in Maastricht on Tuesday after the robbery

Dutch police officers stand guard at the entrance of the TEFAF Art Fair in Maastricht on Tuesday after the robbery

Video of the scene showed one of the smartly dressed men using a sledgehammer to break the glass display case of the London jewelery stand.

The suspect is seen repeatedly hitting the armored glass at least 12 times as burglar alarms blared while three other men, also dressed in blazers, flat caps and goggles, stood guard around him.

An audience member walks up to the men and picks up a vase full of flowers and appears ready to throw it at the robbers.

But two of the men on guard waved what appeared to be rifles at the bystander.

The audience member quickly drops the vase and runs away from the robbers.

The hammer-wielding suspect eventually slammed through the glass and reached inside to pick up something before putting it in a bag.

The men then ran past a stunned elderly man, who had been sitting on a bench nearby during the drama.

The public was quickly evacuated from the exchange after the robbery before it reopened later.

The prestigious TEFAF fair is held in a conference center in Maastricht, where displays of precious art and jewelery attract buyers and collectors from all over the world. It is scheduled for June 25-30.

An audience member rushes to the men and grabs a vase of flowers and appears ready to throw it at the robbers

Then we see the four armed robbers running away

A member of the audience runs up to the men and grabs a vase of flowers and appears to be ready to throw it at the robbers (left). But one of the men on guard runs up to the man and points at him what looks like a gun. The audience member quickly drops the vase and runs away from the robbers. Then we see the four armed robbers running away (right)

Pictured: The vandalized display case that was destroyed by the armed robbers

Pictured: The vandalized display case that was destroyed by the armed robbers

Visitors stand outside the international art and antiques fair Tefaf Maastricht after it was evicted after the robbery on Tuesday

Visitors stand outside the international art and antiques fair Tefaf Maastricht after it was evicted after the robbery on Tuesday

“No one was injured and the robbers seized property,” the police of the province of Limburg said in a statement.

Police closed nearby roads and a major road tunnel to hunt the suspects immediately after, they said.

four Police cars stopped a gray car with a foreign registration number on the nearby A2 motorway and officers arrested two suspects.

‘The police investigation, which started immediately after the robbery, has led to two arrests… The police investigation is in full swing. The focus is on tracking down the two other suspects.’

The display case of the London jeweler Symbolic and Chase was the target of the attack, according to Dutch media. The company was not immediately available for comment.

Photos on social media showed a shattered glass case at the exhibit.

A visitor, Jos Stassen, told the NOS that he had gone to the exhibition on Tuesday to look at the art in peace.

“Normally it’s very quiet… serene. But now I suddenly heard a lot of noise and I turned around and suddenly saw those men,” the NOS quoted him as saying.

“One started hitting and the others kept people away, scared everyone. I also saw a weapon. It went really fast and it lasted a very short time, but I’m still shaking a little.’

Another eyewitness said she saw one person holding a gun and another a sledgehammer during the robbery.

Julie Bartholomeus, from Maastricht, told De Limburger: ‘I thought very quickly to leave. My mother was a little further away, so I picked her up and we ran to the first exit.’

Visitors stand outside the international art and antiques fair Tefaf Maastricht after it was evicted after the armed robbery on Tuesday

Visitors stand outside the international art and antiques fair Tefaf Maastricht after it was evicted after the armed robbery on Tuesday

Police at international art and antiques fair Tefaf Maastricht after eviction

Police at international art and antiques fair Tefaf Maastricht after eviction

Bystanders gather outside the TEFAF Art Fair in Maastricht on Tuesday after the robbery

Bystanders gather outside the TEFAF Art Fair in Maastricht on Tuesday after the robbery

TEFAF is one of the largest art fairs in Europe and regularly attracts tens of thousands of visitors.

The exchange’s security teams worked quickly to disarm an violator and the Dutch police were on the scene within minutes. No one was injured during the incident,” a TEFAF spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The exchange had “robust procedures in the event of a security breach,” it said.

“These were closely monitored and all visitors, exhibitors and staff were safely evacuated. The stock market has now reopened,” it added.

The fair and the MECC conference center where it will be held “cooperated with authorities” and declined to comment further, it said.

The stock market has been running for over 30 years and returned this year after a hiatus due to the Covid pandemic.

Art detective Arthur Brand said he believes the robbers could be from Eastern Europe.

He said: ‘The sheer courage of committing a robbery and attacking display cases with a claw hammer on the overcrowded Tefaf, disguised with caps and mustaches, reminds me of an Eastern European method.

‘There are gangs in Eastern Europe that have specialized in this method. Although it is also an option that the robbers are also stupid.

TEFAF shows hundreds of works, including a 17th-century drawing by a Dutch old master that is for sale for a million euros.

It is not the first time that the fair has been the target of criminals.

At the exhibition in 2011, a ring and diamond necklace worth €860,000 (then £741,000) were stolen from a London jeweler.

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