French police have freed 18 hostages and are on the search for gunmen after what appears to be an attempt to rob a Primark store near Paris.

Special forces were dispatched to the scene in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, according to AFP.

A police source told AFP: “Around 6.30am (0530GMT), two or three armed criminals went into the Primark store for what we think was initially an attempt at armed robbery.”

An additional police source said details of the hold-up first emerged when an employee alerted her boyfriend about it at 7am by sending a text message saying she had been taken hostage by two armed men.

Police stopped traffic around the Qwartz mall where the Primark store is located and all other shops were closed after news of the robbery emerged.

A Primark spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that there has been an incident at our Quartz shopping centre store in northern Paris. Police are in attendance and media inquiries are being referred to them.

“We will do all we can to support our staff and their families. We hope for a speedy and safe end to this incident.”