PARIS -- Five masked gunmen, believed to be members of a leftist terrorist organization, made off with the equivalent of $11.4 million from a Bank of France branch in France's second major bank robbery in four months.
Police today combed an area of western France, 250 southwest of Paris, setting up roadblocks and increasing patrols in an attempt to trap the five masked gunmen. Officials said the five were suspected of being members of the extreme leftist French terror group Direct Action.
The gang broke into a cashier's apartment located above the bank branch about 4:30 a.m. Thursday. They are believed to have climbed a fi e escape and broken a window in the brownstone building in the resort of Saint Nazaire.
After the cashier was shot while trying to grab a gun, the gunmen woke the bank director, who lived in a nearby apartment, and took him hostage. The gunmen and the two hostages proceeded to the bank, where they waited for other employees to arrive.
The gunmen then took another eight employees hostage, and used the keys from one of them to open the bank vault.
Hours after the robbery, police found a ca , a van and a truck used in the getaway and were examining them for clues.
The cashier was in satisfactory condition at hospital and there were no other injuries.
Police officials said they believed the robbery was the biggest in France since nearly $11.5 million was taken from the Caisse d'Epargne in Paris in 1980 -- France's largest bank robbery.
It was the second major heist from the Bank of France in four months.
The Bank's branch at Niort, about 150 miles from Saint-Nazaire, was robbed March 4 by six gunmen who escaped with $4.1 million.
Security Minister Robert Pandraud Thursday announced extra precautions at all Bank of France branches, which were thought to be virtually impregnable.
The largest U.S. bank robbery was the $3.3 million taken from the Fi st National Bank in Tucson, Ariz., in 1981.
The largest cash robbery reported in the United States was the $11 million dollar theft from the Sentry Armored Car-Courier service in New York in 1982.