Special forces have evacuated 18 people from a mall near Paris after gunmen tried to hold up a Primark store inside.
Police believe the attack was an attempt to rob the clothing shop.
The gunmen – one of whom was thought to be a Primark employee – were still on the loose and believed to be inside the Qwartz mall in Villeneuve-la-Garenne just north of Paris on Monday.
“Around 6.30am, three armed criminals went into the Primark store for what we think was initially an attempt at armed robbery,” said a police source who wished to remain anonymous.
“But we don’t know whether they are still there.”
An employee first alerted her boyfriend of the hold-up about 7am when she sent him a text message saying they had been taken hostage by two armed men, another source said.
The area around the mall was shut down, all traffic stopped and other stores in the vicinity closed as special forces rushed to the scene.
The mall was quickly evacuated but according to police, 18 workers remained inside, holed up in a canteen.
It is unclear whether they were taken there by the gunmen or escaped and hid there.
They “were evacuated around 10.30am, one of them was unwell but no one was injured”, police said, adding security forces were still hunting for the gunmen.
The armed men were caught entering the mall on CCTV cameras but have not been filmed leaving the premises.
The memory of attacks in January by Islamic extremists who gunned down 17 people in and near Paris – including several who were held hostage in a Jewish supermarket – is still fresh in the minds of the French.
France, and the Paris area in particular, is still on high alert and 7000 soldiers are deployed around the country to help police in countering any further attack.