Armed robbers wearing flat caps staged a brazen daytime raid on an international art fair in the Netherlands, smashing a jewelry box with a hammer in front of terrified visitors.
Police said they stopped a car and arrested two Belgians in their twenties after the four smartly dressed robbers staged the European Fine Arts Fair (Tefaf) in the southern city of Maastricht on Tuesday.
Dramatic footage on social media showed the thieves threatening people with what appeared to be handguns before fleeing with an undisclosed amount of what police called “loot”.
The venue was evacuated, but visitors were later reintegrated into the fair, which is attended by tens of thousands of people over several days. No one was injured, police said.
“A stand was raided, they fled and we started the search,” said Wim Coenen, spokesman for the Limburg provincial police. “There were four suspects, two have been arrested.”
Dutch media said the window contained diamond jewelery and other items from London jeweler Symbolic & Chase. There was no comment from the company.
Police confirmed in a statement that “jewellery was stolen”, adding, “Additional details of the loot are not provided at this time.”
Officers launched an extensive search involving a helicopter and sniffer dogs and shortly after arrested the two men, aged 22 and 26.
“These two people were driving a gray vehicle registered in Belgium. This car has been stopped… Their possible involvement is still under investigation,” he said.
The art fair is one of the largest in Europe and features hundreds of works, including a 17th century drawing by an old Dutch master on sale for 1 million euros (£860,000).
Videos on social media showed the four men – all wearing flat caps, glasses and smart blazers – amid scenes of chaos at the art fair. One of them hit the jewelry box at least 12 times as the burglar alarms went off. He finally broke the glass, reaching out to pick something up before putting it in a bag.
Two of the men brandished what appeared to be weapons at a passerby, who attempted to intervene using a large glass vase filled with flowers before backing away. The men then fled from a puzzled old man who had been sitting nearby on a bench throughout the drama.
One visitor, Jos Stassen, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that he went to the exhibition on Tuesday to view the art in peace.
“I suddenly heard a lot of noise and I turned around and suddenly saw these men,” he said. “One started beating and the others kept people away, scared everyone. I also saw a weapon. It went very quickly and it lasted a very short time, but I’m still shaking a little.
The fair’s general manager, Bart Drenth, said the owners of the destroyed stand were “very shocked”, Dutch news agency ANP reported. He said the fair’s security protocol was working well despite the armed robbers being able to enter, adding: “Police were on the scene within minutes.”
A Tefaf spokesperson added in a statement that its “security teams worked quickly to disarm an offender”, adding: “No one was injured in the incident”.
The phrase ‘Peaky Blinders’ was trending on social media in the Netherlands after the raid, as the caps worn by the suspects resembled those in the British crime drama of the same name.
This is not the first time the fair has been targeted by criminals. A diamond ring and necklace worth £860,000 belonging to a London jeweler was stolen from the show in 2011.
The Netherlands has also seen a series of art thefts, with paintings by Van Gogh and Frans Hals taken during break-ins in 2020.