ATM bombings in the Netherlands spread to Germany
An exploded ATM, presented to the press by German police, on February 2, 2023 in Munich. Since 2015, attacks have increased in Germany, especially in the border regions of the Netherlands. © AP/Sven Hoppe
Text by: Sabine Cessou Follow
Attacks on ATMs, an evil that has become Dutch, prompted banks to reduce the number of machines in operation. This type of crime is therefore spreading to neighbouring regions in Germany. Belgian and Dutch gangs are regularly dismantled by Europol.
In early February, German police arrested nine people in the Netherlands on suspicion of carrying out at least 50 attacks in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg since November 2021, for a very substantial loot of 5.2 million euros. These nine suspects are of Dutch, Moroccan, Turkish and Romanian nationality – without the police incriminating any mafia, as many of them operate in the Netherlands, a hub for drug trafficking and prostitution.
ATM attacks first spread in the 2000s by malware installations, by gangs mainly from Eastern Europe (Romania, Poland, Russia), allowing credit card fraud to operate from ATMs "infected" by this malware.
When banks tightened their security, the use of compressed air techniques and then explosives began. Other measures have therefore been taken: in Amsterdam, despite the constant tourist flows, ATMs close between 23 p.m. and 6 a.m. and remain open at night only near night shops, night grocery stores, places of passage. The first to be sorry, says the Dutch press, are the... drug dealers.
In 2021, no less than 880 ATMs were closed by banks, leaving the Netherlands with a total of 4,916 ATMs for 17 million inhabitants. That's a third less than in 2019.
Moving attacks to Germany
As an unintended consequence of these measures, attacks have been increasing since 2015 in Germany, especially in border regions, where banks have not been as quick to react and adapt. Europol counted 200 attacks in North Rhine-Westphalia between October 2015 and April 2018. Their pace is accelerating, over larger and larger regions, which go as far as Bavaria.
No fewer than 494 vending machines were destroyed and robbed in 2022 in Germany, and 50 in January 2023 alone. A share of 80% of these crimes are attributed to Dutch criminals – young men in their twenties, sometimes of Turkish or Moroccan origin, as indicated by the press releases of Europol, which refuses to give more details "to avoid that the criminals know the information we have", says a spokeswoman.
A gang based in Belgium has been dismantled, after managing to steal more than 1.6 million euros. Another group of nine people were arrested in September 2021 in the Netherlands, after an 18-month investigation by German and Dutch police linked the suspects to the explosions of fifteen machines in Germany, which delivered 2.15 million euros.
Some machines are literally pulverized, along with all the money in them. The situation is so serious that Europol has been investigating since 2019 in association with the Belgian, Dutch and German police, and is concerned about the threat of this type of crime across Europe.
For now, the explosives used are "homemade", but police fear that criminals could get their hands on Semtex used for military purposes, which would make the situation very dangerous. It already is, moreover, for the thieves themselves, as revealed by the police during the raid carried out in September 2021.
The gang was filming "tutorials" on the best way to blow up a distributor. He lost one of his limbs in Utrecht, in September 2020, in an illegal training center that did not hesitate to order brand new vending machines in Germany – which alerted the police in the locality of Osnabrück – to practice blowing them up. A 29-year-old boy died while handling explosives during the filming of a video, while one of his accomplices, 24, was seriously injured.
A well-established modus operandi
Another Europol operation, called "Pfeil/Pentagon", led to the arrest of six other suspects between March and May 2022 in the cities of Haarlem and Vianen in the Netherlands. The investigation was conducted by the Frankfurt Attorney General's Office, after thefts that stole 958,000 euros between October and November 2021 in Germany. The criminals' modus operandi is well established: arrive on the scene in a stolen car in the early hours of the morning, blow up an ATM, seize the money and leave illico.
The "relocation" of attacks to Germany does not prevent gangs from remaining active in the Netherlands. Last February, residents of a village in Drenthe were woken up at 4:30 a.m. by the sound of an explosion, which destroyed their one and only ATM. Witnesses saw four men flee in a car... We do not know what links they have with which organized crime group or what all that money is used for.
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