French and Swiss police have launched a cross-border manhunt for an armed gang who stormed a casino in Basle and broke open cash desks before vanishing into the night with hundreds of thousands of euros.
The raid, which prosecutors said was a professional operation orchestrated with "brutal" efficiency, was carried out at 4am this morning at the city's Grand Casino by about 10 masked raiders armed with machine guns and pistols.
After one man burst through the front entrance with a sledgehammer, his accomplices ran inside and ordered guests to the floor while firing into the air. "The criminals fired a number of shots, but luckily no one was hit," the Basle public prosecutor said in a statement.
Some of the gang tried to break into the safe room but failed, despite firing bullets into the door. Others went to the cash desks and managed to steal "several hundreds of thousands of [Swiss] francs".
The gang then sped off across the border in two silver Audi cars whose numberplates were registered in the Bas-Rhin area of eastern France. The Grand Casino, which describes itself as "the Swiss Las Vegas", is just 200 metres from the French border. Witnesses said the gang members spoke in French.
Today, as the authorities in both countries stepped up the manhunt, casino staff said they were left shaken by the heist. "This is the first time we've been robbed. We are all very shocked. You can prepare for it, but when it happens it's something else," a manager, Michael Favrod, told Swiss television. "Thankfully nothing happened to my colleagues or the guests," he added. While none of the staff or guests were shot, several were kicked or manhandled. One woman, who accidentally blocked the gang's getaway, was dragged from her car and beaten, said the authorities. "The perpetrators knew what they were after. They proceeded quickly, professionally and brutally," said Peter Gill, a spokesman for the Basle prosecutors.
When the heist began, around 600 people were still in the casino for late-night gambling which under normal circumstances would have gone on until closing time at 5am. With nearly 360 slot machines, 15 gambling tables, four bars, two restaurants and a "designer" hotel, police said the casino would have been an appealing target for robbers.
This was not the first time that criminals have targeted a European gambling centre this month. On 6 March attackers held up a Berlin poker tournament and threatened guests with a revolver and a machete as they helped themselves to €240,000. German police say they have since arrested five people suspected of involvement.