In Brief

Three gunmen on the run after 18 hostages taken in Primark

Men were 'brandishing sawn-off shotguns' in what is believed to have been an attempted robbery

Three gunmen are said to be on the run in Paris after taking 18 people hostage at a Primark store, north-west of the French capital.

Special forces are hunting the men, who entered the discount clothing store in Villeneuve-la-Garenne early this morning.

The men were "brandishing sawn-off shotguns" in what is thought to have been a botched robbery attempt, says The Independent. Police were reportedly alerted after one Primark employee texted a friend at 7am to say they were being held by armed men.

"Around 6.30am (5.30am BST), two or three armed criminals went into the Primark store for what we think was initially an attempt at armed robbery," said one police source.

All the hostages were subsequently released, but the three men are yet to be caught.

One witness told Le Parisien newspaper that he saw people fleeing in a panic. "Everyone was running and screaming, 'They are armed, they are armed. We must get out'," he said.

A spokesman for Primark confirmed that there had been an "incident" at its Qwartz shopping centre store in northern Paris.

"Police are in attendance and media inquiries are being referred to them," he said. "We will do all we can to support our staff and their families. We hope for a speedy and safe end to this incident."

The region remains on "high alert" after Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January, killing 12 people, notes The Times.

"There was no suggestion of any political motive for today's robbery. Nor, however, was it clear why the gunmen would have been trying to rob a clothes store early on a Monday morning," said the newspaper.

Le Parisien suggests that the store's takings are normally picked up by a security guard every day of the week, except for a Sunday, meaning there would have been cash left in the store this morning from a busy weekend of shopping. Some reports suggest that the gunmen knew this and that one of them may even have been a Primark employee.

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