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City of light fingers
A group of gun and axe toting robbers staged an audacious heist at the famed Ritz Hotel in Paris last night, making off with jewels and watches worth $6 million.
The balaclava-wearing thieves entered from a side street off Place Vendôme around 6:30 p.m. and quickly smashed through the windows and display cases of several lobby jewelry stores, scooping out the contents.
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots, which touched off a panic among guests and visitors at the ultra-luxury hotel, owned by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed.
“I saw hooded men with guns, and then my only aim was getting out of there,” a woman identified only as “Jennifer” told the Associated Press. “So I left through the bar. I escaped. I ran and ran. I found myself in the basement of the Ritz and then I continued to run without knowing how to get around. I didn’t know what had happened. I thought it was an attack.”
The gang tried to leave via a different exit, but found it locked. Bags of loot were then thrown out of a nearby window to waiting accomplices.
The delay allowed a nearby police patrol to arrive and arrest three of the men, and recover a portion of the jewelry, but two more escaped via motor scooter.
It was the latest high-profile heist in the upscale shopping and hotel district near the Seine and Jardin des Tuileries. In January 2016, Kim Kardashian lost $15 million worth of jewelry during a home invasion near L’église de la Madeleine, a couple of blocks from the square.
In March, robbers trailed two American tourists to an underground car park and snatched $600,000 worth of jewels that they had just purchased.
That same month, baubles worth $9 million were grabbed from a Chopard store on Place Vendôme by a group of thieves armed with a pistol and a grenade.
In May, a man wearing a balaclava and and another disguised with a carnival mask used axes to smash display cases in the Buccellati store on nearby rue de la Paix, making off with $7.5 million worth of goods.
That robbery came just two days after armed men stormed an apartment in the 16th arrondissement and made off with a $4.5 million ring.
The modern Paris record, however, remains the $118 million haul scooped from a Harry Winston store a little further up the Seine in the spring of 2008 by a group of male thieves dressed in women’s clothing and wigs. Police recovered more than $20 million worth of that loot from a storm drain in the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis in 2011.
In 2015, eight men were sent to prison for that theft — as well as an earlier October 2007 heist from the same store that netted $35 million in jewels.
Their sentences ranged from nine months to 15 years.
Most of their ill-gotten gains have yet to be recovered.
The hacking and wheezing has been going on for weeks, but the worst of flu season is likely yet to come.
This year’s plague, a nasty mix of influenza A strain H3N2 — dubbed the ‘Aussie flu’ — and the less-severe B/Yamagata strain, appears to be on its way to a peak in the United States.
The latest Center for Disease Control flu report says 26 states are now experiencing “high” or intense influenza activity, and 46 are reporting a widespread outbreak of the illness. It’s a trend that seems to mirror the peak of the 2014-15 flu season, the worst in recent years.
California has been hit particularly hard, with 27 flu-related deaths in people under the age of 65. It has seen a sharp uptick in hospitalizations and a run on medications.
In Idaho, an elementary school was forced to shut down for a week after more than a third of its 430 students were off sick Tuesday.
There are similar problems in Britain, where flu cases close to doubled over the past week, with a 51 per cent rise in hospitalizations. The tabloids, with their typical restraint, are blaming Australia — which suffered 170,000 cases of the A H3N2 strain this past summer — and using headlines like “Flunited Kingdom.”
And there are indications that the wave may be about to crest in Canada:
Earlier this week, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, admitted that it’s possible this year’s flu vaccine will be of limited use. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere found that the inoculations were ineffective when it came to H3N2, which tends to cause more severe illnesses among children and the elderly.
But given this year’s mix of flu strains, Dr. Tam is still recommending that people get their shots.
Gunning for gold
Canada has finally named its men’s hockey team for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Keener fans will recognize at least a few of the names:
- Former Leafs netminder Ben Scrivens.
- Wojtek Wolski, a former first-round pick for the Colorado Avalanche.
- Longtime Sabres centre Derek Roy.
- Maxim Lapierre, who played 614 NHL games for Montreal and four other teams.
But many of the other players selected, like Quinton Howden, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Linden Vey, are far from household names.
The NHL’s decision to boycott these Olympics — due to an ongoing spat with the IOC over money — has left major hockey nations scrambling to fill their rosters.
Canada, with all its depth, is in a better position than most.
Eleven of today’s picks are currently playing in Russia’s KHL, perhaps the world’s second-best league. Three more are in the American Hockey League, with the remainder now toiling in the Swiss, Swedish and Austrian leagues.
Sean Burke, Team Canada’s general manager, and Willie Desjardins, his coach, have had the luxury of shaping their team over the past few months, auditioning players at five tournaments through the fall.
In fact, by the time the squad clinched the Spengler Cup with a 3-0 victory over Switzerland on New Year’s Eve, Burke admitted he had already filled 20 of his 25 roster spots.
Today’s team unveiling, in a modest hotel conference room in Calgary, was a much lower-key event than in past Olympic cycles. Four years ago, for example, the ceremony was held on the ice at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility, before an overflowing audience of media and dignitaries, with several hundred fans packed into the stands.
Canada opens its hunt for a third straight men’s hockey gold on Feb. 15 against Switzerland. The team plays the Czech Republic the following day, and closes out the preliminary round against host South Korea on Feb. 18.
Quote of the moment
“We are at a moment where gender roles are evolving.”
– Cooper Hefner, son of Playboy founder Hugh, on the magazine’s first transgender cover model. Giuliana Farfalla, a 21-year-old reality TV star, is featured on the front of the German edition.
What The National is reading
- Iran nuclear deal: U.K. challenges U.S. to find a ‘better solution.’ (BBC)
- Birth tourism brings Russian baby boom to Miami. (NBC)
- Trucking company fined $1,100 after driver skips break, crashes fuel tanker. (CBC)
- Trump says ‘no collusion’ an awful lot. (CNN)
- Indian sub crippled when sailor ‘forgot to close hatch.’ (Daily Mail)
- World’s best female poker player joins world’s biggest hedge fund. (Bloomberg)
Today in history
Jan. 11, 1958: Made in Canada, a look inside the clothing industry.
The nuts and bolts of the schmatta trade, set to a Bugs-Bunnyesque soundtrack. Glory in the “new look for spring” as envisioned by Paris designers — two years earlier.
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