Rooftop break-in at British security firm in Stockholm
• Police foiled as thieves haul up bags of cash
Sweden has seen its fair share of daring cash robberies in recent years, from fake bombs used as decoys to the hold-up of luggage handlers at airports. But a raid by a gang that landed from a helicopter on to the roof of a cash depot in Stockholm today and loaded up with bags of money has foxed police.
The masked gunmen jumped out on to the roof of the G4S cash depot in the Västberga area just after 5am, smashed windows with a sledgehammer and made their way inside. Around 20 staff were in the building at the time of the attack, many believed to have been involved in counting money.
Once the gang was inside, witnesses reported hearing several loud bangs. The helicopter casually hovered for 15 minutes waiting for the men to load up bags of stolen cash from the roof-top. One witness told Swedish TV: "Two men hoisted themselves down. I saw when they hoisted up money, too."
Meanwhile, a police Swat team was seen desperately trying to enter the cash depot with a battering ram.
The police were unable to call out their own helicopters because suspected explosives had been placed at the aircraft hangar in a bag marked "bomb". "We've found what we believe is a live bomb to hinder our response," a police spokesman, Rikard Johansson, said. Small spiked objects had also been spread out on the road near the depot in an attempt to hinder the police from approaching the scene.
"I've never experienced anything like it," said a police spokesman, Kjell Lindgren.
Another spokesman added: "What we know is that they forced down some kind of wall to get in. We don't want to comment on how they did it."
No staff were injured in the robbery. Investigators said the thieves wore masks and were believed to have carried automatic weapons and detonated explosives during the 20-minute raid.
An abandoned, stolen Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter was later found in a recreational area near a lake north of Stockholm, about 15 miles from the cash depot.
One witness living near the helicopter's landing site said he had been watching a news report of the robbery when he heard engine noise at 7.30am, he looked out and saw a white and red helicopter flying low over his house.
"I thought it can't have been the one [involved in the robbery]. But now I realise the helicopter I saw is the one that landed here in Skavloten."
The British-based G4S, one of the world's largest security companies, did not say how much money was in the depot at the time of the raid. A spokesman said the gang had made off with "an unconfirmed sum of money".
The Stockholm depot stores cash that is transported to banks and other businesses in Sweden. Swedish media speculated that the depot could have been holding several million Swedish kronor, including money to be transported to cash machines. The company offered a reward for information without specifying the sum.
One person was detained in a Stockholm suburb in connection with the robbery, but was not officially declared a suspect.
Last year, a group of men broke into a mail processing centre in Gothenburg, paralysing large parts of Sweden's second largest city after dropping spikes, burning cars in different areas and leaving suspected explosive devices in the centre.
In 2006, Gothenburg's international airport was partially closed after masked men rammed a gate and held up luggage handlers as they were unloading crates of foreign currency worth 7.8m kronor (£700,000) from a passenger aircraft. Four years earlier, robbers pulled off a similar robbery at Arlanda airport, Stockholm, when staff were loading foreign currency worth 43m kronor on to an aircraft.
1983: thieves raided a warehouse at Heathrow, with inside information from a security guard. They threatened staff with petrol and stole £26m of gold bullion and diamonds.
1992: five men hijacked a helicopter and stole mail bags reportedly containing 10m francs, after attacking a plane at Bastia airport.
Millennium Star diamond
2000: robbers with a JCB broke in to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. Speedboat escape foiled by tip-off to police.
2006: £53m stolen from a depot in Kent after manager was abducted by a gang posing as police officers.
Art Hostage Comments:
Helicopters can be used for Jailbreaks, cash robberies, Jewel Heists and high value iconic art thefts.
We have had the first two, awaiting three and four.
Exactly how much cash was taken in this heist, authorities know the amount but the thieves are still counting !!!
Timetable of the Cash Heist
Wednesday 5.15am - A helicopter is witnessed above the roof of the G4S cash depot in Västberga in Stockholm by staff at the National Rail Administration (Banverket) offices directly opposite.
5.19am - Police receive a call about the robbery. Witnesses watch as the stolen white Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter lets out three or four passengers on the roof. Explosions are heard as the robbers enter the building while the helicopter hovers above the building.
Several sacks of what is presumed to be money are then seen raised into the helicopter on a rope.
5.25am - The first police patrol arrives at the scene in Västberga but are ordered not to act as the robbers continue to load sacks of money into the helicopter. They have been ordered to await the arrival of the National Task Force.
5.35am - With the police looking on the helicopter lifts off from the roof of the building and heads north. The robbers had lain caltrops on the road routes out away from the building in order to hinder the police.
The National Task Force enters the building.
5.49am - The police helicopter station at Myttingen on Värmdö is notified but pilots can not lift off as a suspected bomb is found in front of the helicopter hanger.
7am - The police confirm that none of the 21 G4S staff were hurt in the attack.
7.37am - Explosives are found in the building and police extend the cordon around the depot.
8.15am - The helicopter is found in woodland near Skavlöten in Arninge north of Stockholm.
8.42am - The police escort the G4S staff out from the cash depot.
1pm - police dispose of the suspected bomb at the helicopter station on Värmdö with the help of a water cannon.
3pm - Police hold a press conference where they classify the crime as an extraordinary event and are thus able to call on the resources of police forces from across the country.
By 6pm in the evening the police had arrested two men in connection with the robbery as they combed the Stockholm underworld for clues to what is described as a well-organised professional heist.
Criminology professor Leif G W Persson said on Wednesday that the cash depot could have housed up to a billion kronor ($146 million) in cash.
Media reports on Thursday indicate that a mafia boss from the Balkans could be the brains behind the robbery.
It is also reported that Stockholm police had previously received information that a helicopter heist was being planned in the area but that the National Task Force had been conducting surveillance at the wrong depot, in Bromma in the north-west of the city.
Art Hostage Comments:
There are many fingers in this pie
Roots of The Heist
“Top gangsters” make helicopter jailbreak
Three men described as "top gangsters" escaped last Thursday in a spectacular helicopter jailbreak from Bruges prison - just hours after the justice minister, kitted out in full prison officer's uniform, had made an official visit to the jail.
The three men - Ashraf Sekkaki, Abdelhaq Melloul-Khayari and Mohamed Johri - were picked up on the exercise yard of the wing of the prison reserved for long-term male prisoners. The helicopter had been hired by a man and a woman in Diksmuide for a tourist overflight of Bruges, then hijacked at gunpoint. The pilot set down inside the exercise yard, and one of the hijackers was dropped off, police presume because the helicopter would otherwise have been too heavy. It then picked up the three escapees and took off.
Soon after, at Aalter near the E40 motorway, the gang carjacked a Mercedes and forced the driver to take them as far as Melle outside Ghent, where she was freed unharmed. As Flanders Today went to press, the whereabouts of the escapees and their accomplice were unknown.
News reports have concentrated on Sekkaki, aged 25, who has a record of numerous offences committed as a minor, and who has not been out of prison since he was first sentenced as an adult at the age of 16 - other than during one of his many escapes from custody, one of which lasted a year. His record includes armed robberies, carjackings and tiger kidnapping (where bank employees are held hostage while their premises are robbed). In 2007 his brother was caught with a rope-ladder and firearm when police raided his home on a tip that Sekkaki was planning an escape by helicopter. Sekkaki himself has always maintained the plan was a joke.
In letters sent to De Morgen newspaper prior to the escape and published last week, Sekkaki claims he is a victim of a system which "spat him out". "I have hate feelings, a sort of constriction in my stomach that shrinks and grows like a tumour," he is quoted as writing. "We carry our imprisonment with us like a sickness. But the ‘hospital' does nothing to help its patients. On the contrary it perpetuates their complaint, and injects new germs that will later cause new illnesses to break out."
Melloul-Khayari, aged 42, is associated with the gang of Hassan Maâche, responsible for robbery with extreme violence and specialised in attacking security vans. He is also a recidivist escapee: once he walked out of the front gate of Verviers prison having changed places with his brother.
Johri, meanwhile, is serving five years for armed robberies of a Lidl supermarket, a bank branch and a toyshop.
Sekkaki was recently transferred from the high-security wing of the prison to the general wing for long-term prisoners. Only the high-security yard is fitted with security cables designed to make a helicopter escape impossible. Bruges was one of five prisons named as priorities by former justice minister Laurette Onkelinx in 2007 for cables or nets following the escape in October of that year from Ittre prison of Nordin Benallal. Last week the prisons directorate blamed the public works department for the lack of progress, pointing out that an application had been submitted to cover other yards in Bruges prison. "But we are not the owners of the building," a spokesman said. "We can only state our priorities and then hope they are carried out."
The escape is embarrassing for the government not only for the fact that the promise of escape-proof nets appears to have been shelved, but because the current justice minister, Stefaan De Clerck, was on the scene on the day of the escape. De Clerck was on a visit to the prison on Thursday morning, and for the cameras of the VRT changed into a prison officer's uniform to walk the gangways and see what the job might feel like.
• In other news, and not totally unrelated, the man suspected of being the mastermind behind the biggest-ever diamond heist in Antwerp has been arrested in possession of a quantity of stones. Leonardo Notabartolo, 57, was stopped at a routine traffic check in Milan, and his brand-new BMW searched after police realised his identity. They found just over one kilo of diamonds hidden in the car in 21 packages. The stones are now being examined to see if they are part of the loot from the robbery of the strongroom of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre on the weekend of St Valentine's in February 2003. Notabartolo, who served six years in Hasselt prison for the robbery, claims he bought the stones legitimately. The takings from the heist, estimated at €100 million, have never been recovered.
Bank robbers' daring helicopter jail break... for the SECOND time in three years
Greek police are scouring the country for two convicts who orchestrated a brazen helicopter prison break for the second time in three years.
Detectives arrested four prison guards and the helicopter pilot this morning.
Three top Greek officials were fired for the security lapse, and the justice minister called for an investigation into the bank accounts of all guards working in the wing where the two convicts were held.
Vassilis Paleokostas, a bank robber who is among Greece's most notorious convicts, and Alket Rizaj, 34, were picked up on Sunday afternoon by a helicopter that flew over the courtyard of Athens' Korydallos prison.
The two had escaped the exact same way from the same prison in June 2006, and had been due to appear in court Monday in connection with that escape.
Paleokostas, 42, had remained at large for more than two years until being recaptured last August.
While on the run, he is suspected of masterminding the June 2008 kidnapping of a prominent Greek industrialist, Giorgos Mylonas, who was held for 13 days until his family paid a ransom.
Sunday's prison break was yet another blow for Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
His conservative government, which holds a razor-thin majority of one seat in Parliament, has been buffeted by financial scandals, weeks of extensive riots sparked by the fatal police shooting of a teenager in December and the re-emergence of domestic terrorism.
Karamanlis rejected opposition calls on Sunday for early elections but called a meeting for Monday to discuss the prison break.
Justice Minister Nikos Dendias fired three top officials for the escape - the ministry's top prison security official, the inspector-general of prisons and the head of the Korydallos prison.
'This (escape) was an insult which I will not accept ... I will take measures as harsh as necessary,' he said after visiting the prison Sunday evening.
A ministry official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, explained the bank investigation by saying that Paleokostas is believed to have some £5 million stashed away from the ransom reportedly paid to free Mylonas.
Although the exact details of Sunday's escape were unclear, the Justice Ministry said Paleokostas and his accomplice climbed a rope ladder thrown to them by a woman passenger in the helicopter.
Guards on the ground opened fire and the woman fired back with an automatic rifle, authorities said. No injuries were reported.
A local resident captured part of the escape on amateur video. The grainy footage shows a helicopter rising from the prison and flying off across the city after shots are heard.
The pilot was found later bound, gagged and with a hood over his head. He reportedly told police the helicopter was chartered by a couple who said they wanted to go from the town of Itea in central Greece to Athens.
He said he had been threatened with an automatic AK-47 rifle and a grenade and forced to fly to the prison.
Police announced that the helicopter, found abandoned near a highway north of Athens, was struck by a bullet that hit its fuel tank and sprung a leak.
The two convicts had been held in solitary confinement but were allowed to take their daily walk on the prison grounds together, despite their previous escape.
Paleokostas was serving prison sentences of more that 25 years for a 1995 kidnapping, several robberies and arms possession.
Nikos Paleokostas was recaptured in September 2006 and is still in jail. He has been convicted of 16 bank robberies.
Rizaj, an Albanian immigrant, was serving a life term for murder. He has also been charged with carrying out two contract killings while on the run after the June 2006 helicopter escape. He was recaptured in September that year.