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Belgium detains several in 2-year-old diamond heist case, hopes for breakthrough

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BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities are hoping they have made a major breakthrough in solving a heist of diamonds and gems worth some 40 million euros ($42 million) at Brussels' international airport two years ago.

After a series of raids early Monday, authorities briefly detained several suspects and were analyzing goods that could be linked to the brazen theft, which ranks as one of the biggest diamond heists in memory.

On Feb. 18, 2013, eight gunmen cut a fence around Brussels airport, drove onto the tarmac where an armored car was transferring the gems onto a Zurich-bound airplane and drove off again with the loot.

Even though 14 have already been charged for direct and indirect involvement in the case, over 30 million euros in gems are still missing, said an official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

PHOTO: WITH STORY BELGIUM DIAMOND HEIST - In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, baggage carts make their way past a Helvetic Airways aircraft from which about $50 million worth of diamonds were stolen on the tarmac of Brussels international airport. Belgian authorities are hoping they have made a major breakthrough in solving a two-year-old heist of some 40 million euros in diamonds and gems that were stolen in a brazen attack at Brussels international airport. During a series of raids early Monday, March 16, 2015, authorities made several arrests and were analyzing goods that could be linked to the Feb. 18, 2013 theft, which still ranks as one of the biggest diamond heists in recent memory. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)
WITH STORY BELGIUM DIAMOND HEIST - In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, baggage carts make their way past a Helvetic Airways aircraft from which about $50 million worth of diamonds were stolen on the tarmac of Brussels international airport. Belgian authorities are hoping they have made a major breakthrough in solving a two-year-old heist of some 40 million euros in diamonds and gems that were stolen in a brazen attack at Brussels international airport. During a series of raids early Monday, March 16, 2015, authorities made several arrests and were analyzing goods that could be linked to the Feb. 18, 2013 theft, which still ranks as one of the biggest diamond heists in recent memory. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)

Investigators first struck with a slew of detentions in Belgium, France and Switzerland during the spring of 2013 and seized cash, precious stones and luxury cars. But hopes that all the diamonds could quickly be recovered evaporated with time.

"It is a rather small part that has been recovered," the official said.

But with the material seized Monday, investigators hope they have enough for "a big breakthrough." Officials refused to say how many people had been detained but said they had to be released at the end of the day.

The theft quickly gained worldwide renown because of the bold plan of attack that some likened to a screenplay in the Ocean's movie trilogy. With pinpoint precision, the thieves anticipated when an armored car from Antwerp's famous diamond district would arrive at the airport.

The only weak point in its travel to Switzerland was the transfer onto the plane. So with black cars and blue police lights they cut onto the tarmac and in dark police clothing and toting machine guns they stopped the transport and loaded the diamonds into their cars.

They then made a high-speed getaway.

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