Special forces evacuated 18 people from a mall near Paris Monday after gunmen attacked a Primark store inside, in what is believed to be an attempt to rob the shop, police said.
"Around 6:30 am (0430 GMT), three armed criminals went into the Primark store for what we think was initially an attempt at armed robbery," a police source, who wished to remain anonymous, said of the incident at Villeneuve-la-Garenne.
"But we don\’t know whether they are still there."
An employee first alerted her boyfriend of the hold-up around 7 am when she sent him a text message saying they had been taken hostage by two armed men, another source said.
According to police, some 18 Primark employees had subsequently left the store and grouped together in a cantine inside the Qwartz mall, where all other shops had closed up.
It is as yet unclear whether they were taken there by the gunmen or whether they escaped on their own.
They "were evacuated around 10:30, one of them was unwell but no one was injured," police said, adding security forces were still hunting for the gunmen.
Police have stopped all traffic in the area around the Qwartz mall where the Primark store is located.
The memory of January attacks by Islamist 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.
But so far police have indicated that Monday\’s attack appears to be an attempt at armed robbery.