It was a highway robbery but the bandits got more than they bargained for when they stopped a taxi in Guinea and made off with blood samples that are believed to be infected with the deadly Ebola virus.

Authorities publicly appealed on national radio Friday to the unidentified robbers to hand over the samples that were stolen from the taxi during its 265-kilometre (165-mile) trek on winding rural roads from the central Kankan prefecture to a test site in southern Gueckedou.

The samples, stored in tightly wrapped vials tucked into a cooler bag, were in the care of a Red Cross courier who was among nine passengers sharing a taxi when three bandits on a motorbike led the attack near the town of Kissidougou, a local Red Cross official said.

The robbers forced the passengers out, stole mobile phones, cash and jewelry, and fired into the air as they demanded the handover of the cooler bag, said Saa Mamady Leno of the Red Cross in Gueckedou. The courier, Abubakar Donzo, was later questioned by police.

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