International 'crime gang' arrested over €5.2m cashpoint explosion spree in Europe

Moroccan, Afghan, Turkish, Dutch and Romanian suspects arrested in raids

Police said a criminal gang was believed to be behind more than 50 cashpoint explosions. Photo: LKA BW
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Nine suspected bank robbers have been arrested following a spree of cashpoint explosions in Europe in which €5.2 million ($5.7m) was snatched, German police said on Thursday.

The suspects include Moroccan, Afghan, Turkish, Dutch and Romanian citizens who are accused of blowing up more than 50 ATMs.

Another three suspects are on the run after police in Belgium and the Netherlands raided homes on Germany's behalf.

They seized ill-gotten items such as watches, designer clothes and a stash of banknotes, as well as nine packets of explosives that suggested further attacks were being planned, police said.

“It became clear that we were dealing with a crime spree by a professional and organised gang of criminals,” German prosecutor Bernhard Lieb said.

Police said blowing up cashpoints had become a popular underworld tactic after the closure of many bank branches sent the “traditional bank robbery” into decline.

There were almost 500 cashpoint explosions recorded in Germany last year, more than 10 times the number in 2006.

The suspects in question are accused of causing 52 of them, but police hope the raids will deter other gangs.

The blasts caused €6.5 million ($7.2m) of damage in addition to the money stolen, and could have caused serious injury or death, police said.

In one case, the suspects allegedly blew up a cashpoint underneath an old people's home. Two people were injured in another incident. The most recent explosion took place this month.

The suspects face charges of aggravated gang theft, destruction of property, causing explosions and, in a few cases, attempted murder.

“The offenders behaved in an extremely reckless way and endangered local residents, police officers and unknown others,” said police spokesman Juergen Harle.

“We can assume that the perpetrators were already making preparations for their next crimes.”

The suspects used a high-powered Audi RS 6 as a getaway car and fitted it with stolen number plates, prosecutor Mr Lieb said at a press conference in Munich.

Although most of the explosions took place in southern Germany, a DNA trail led police to the Netherlands and Belgium, where the 12 suspects lived. All are aged between 25 and 41.

Germany is seeking extradition of the nine suspects arrested in the raids on Monday, who could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. A European arrest warrant is out for the three remaining suspects.

Two vehicles were seized in the raids, as well as a six-figure sum of cash that is believed to have come from the destroyed ATMs.

Banks and cashpoint manufacturers have been urged to tighten security. Some German officials have complained that the country is a magnet for ATM thieves because of a lack of safety measures, such as dye packs that discolour banknotes when there is an explosion.

Only 15 such explosions took place in the Netherlands last year, Dutch police said.

Updated: February 02, 2023, 12:39 PM