Nationwide operation against ATM burglars

March 17, 2023

Cross-border police operations in seven federal states to protect ATMs led to 42 arrests / 5,300 vehicles checked in the federal territory

Over the past three days, the largest ever concerted manhunt to combat ATM busting in Germany has taken place. From March 14 to 17, 2023, seven state police forces were active in parallel on supra-regional travel routes with checkpoints to increase the pressure on internationally operating groups of offenders. In total, more than 2,500 police officers were deployed in the seven participating federal states. As part of the cooperation, a total of around 8,000 people and over 5,300 vehicles were checked in Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. The measures were carried out in close cooperation with the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Federal Police. During the manhunt days, more than 180 criminal offenses and 360 administrative offenses were registered and 42 people were provisionally arrested.

On the occasion of the nationwide offensive against ATM burglars, Hesse’s Interior Minister Peter Beuth said: “The nationwide fight against ATM burglars is a top priority. In the past few days, we have therefore once again carried out a concerted and large-scale manhunt to combat ATM burglars in Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein. The high density of checks and the continuing pressure to track down suspects make it clear that we will make it as difficult as possible for internationally operating demolition gangs in Germany in the future. The ongoing and consistent efforts of the federal states are essential for sustained success. That is why we will continue to step up our efforts in the fight against ATM burglaries across all federal states. We are convinced that through the joint fight and increasingly better protected ATMs, we will be able to put a stop to organized gangs and smash them in the long term. I would like to thank all police officers in the states for their courageous efforts over the past few days.”

“Criminals do not stop at national borders. That is why we must work hand in hand with our neighbors to cooperate across borders. Especially the fight against nationally and internationally active, organized gangs requires close cross-border cooperation. With today’s action, we confirm the good cooperation between our police forces and show once again that we are acting together with high pressure and all consistency against ATM burglars. My thanks go to all the police officers involved,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Thomas Strobl.

Lower Saxony’s Minister of the Interior and Sports, Daniela Behrens, says: “In Lower Saxony alone, 16 ATMs have already been blown up this year. The cross-border measures once again illustrate the immense use of resources by the police to combat ATM blasts. The use of fixed explosives, the complete destruction of bank branches and the pursuit at speeds of well over 200 km/h, even on country roads, make it quite clear that the perpetrators are unscrupulous and do not shy away from endangering innocent bystanders. Police measures alone will not be enough to make these acts as unattractive as possible. High ATM security standards across the board are the key to making it no longer worthwhile to blow up ATMs. I am therefore in close contact with representatives of the banking and credit industry in Lower Saxony and will be meeting with them again at the end of April to see what measures have already been implemented. Citizens rightly expect prompt and tangible improvements here.”

“Germany must not be an El Dorado for ATM burglars. It is important that we take action today before people are killed tomorrow in these blasts or in wild getaways. We can only provide effective answers if we work together and across borders. We did that today with flying colors. Because every single vending machine blast is one too many,” said North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Herbert Reul.

“In Rhineland-Palatinate, 56 ATMs were blown up last year, more than one per week. That was the all-time high for our state, and the trend seems to be continuing this year. The perpetrators act with ever greater ruthlessness and accept that bystanders could be seriously injured or even worse. To combat these crimes, cross-border police cooperation – as in the Joint Action Days – is of particular importance. I am convinced that with such control and search measures, the blasts can be countered in a targeted manner,” said Rhineland-Palatinate Interior Minister Michael Ebling.

The recent arrests of ATM blasters in Rhineland-Palatinate last Tuesday in Ludwigshafen and most recently in Koblenz at the end of January showed that police measures against the blasters can be successful, Ebling added. “At the same time, the banks also have a duty to better secure their ATMs. It simply must not be worthwhile for the perpetrators to go on a loot spree in Germany. To this end, I have already concluded a cooperation agreement with three of Rhineland-Palatinate’s four umbrella associations of banks and credit institutions.”

“The cooperation of recent years is paying off! This has also been demonstrated with great effect in the past, for example in the clearing up of the cash transport robbery in Saarlouis a few weeks ago. We know that we can’t do this alone, which is why we need everyone: the state police of the neighboring federal states, the federal police, but also our colleagues from the gendarmerie in France, Luxembourg and Belgium. Because we know that these are usually internationally operating gangs of highly criminal and, above all, unscrupulous people. You have to be prepared for that. The Saarland police are. We are robust on the road. But we can’t guard all the ATMs we have in Saarland day and night either. That’s why we need to stay in contact with the banks and savings banks that maintain this network. We want a coordinated approach there, as in other states. First and foremost, we need to focus on the protected assets in question. And that is not primarily the money or the vending machine. It is the people who may be affected. You can be sure that we have a highly professional, but above all highly committed police force and others involved in this issue on the agenda. That is why this exercise, and above all the corresponding large-scale control, was an important one, and more will follow,” said Reinhold Jost, Interior Minister of Saarland.

Schleswig-Holstein’s Interior Minister Dr. Sabine Sütterlin-Waack welcomes the joint action of the LIGA states against the criminal phenomenon of ATM burglaries: “Unfortunately, Schleswig-Holstein is also affected by some ATM burglaries in which the perpetrators act in a very unscrupulous manner that endangers people. I believe that close coordination between the federal states involved is particularly important in order to put a stop to the perpetrators. I am therefore pleased that we joined the LIGA in December 2022 and can thus jointly share our intelligence and intensify our investigations. The Action Days are an important signal to demonstrate our common determination with regard to fighting this dangerous crime.”

Vice President Martina Link of the Federal Criminal Police Office said, “Combating ATM burglaries is of great importance. In addition to the loot obtained by the perpetrators, considerable property damage is caused, for example to buildings. Above all, however, bystanders are directly endangered by the explosions and flying debris. The perpetrators usually flee in highly motorized getaway vehicles and at very high speeds. Again, there is a significant risk to life and limb of uninvolved citizens.”

The Koblenz Federal Police Directorate participated in the nationwide operation under its own jurisdiction at the borders with France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The task forces searched for possible cross-border perpetrators. “The phenomenon of ATM burglaries can and must also be combated in the border police area of responsibility within the framework of coordinated inter-agency police measures,” said Gregor Pelzl, president of the Koblenz Federal Police Directorate.

In 2022, the highest level of ATM burglary cases recorded so far in Germany was registered. In some cases, up to five ATM blasts occurred in one night throughout Germany.

Perpetrators often blow up conveniently located ATMs

Blowing up ATMs is a serious crime. Perpetrators often target ATMs that are conveniently located near the escape route of highways. While the financial damage to the banks from the theft of the money and the destruction of the machines and buildings is immense, the blasts pose life-threatening dangers to citizens. On the one hand, because the perpetrators usually use solid explosives with high explosive power, and on the other hand, because the perpetrators are particularly scrupulous and reckless in their actions during the execution of the crime and their subsequent escape. This poses a particularly high risk if the blown-up ATMs are located in a so-called mixed building (combined residential and commercial building) or in the vicinity of residential buildings. It is often only by chance that no uninvolved passers-by or residents are injured or even killed during these blasts. Depending on how concretely the respective act endangered the lives of uninvolved persons, for example due to the fact that the explosion was carried out in the immediate vicinity of apartments or residential buildings or of persons staying in the immediate vicinity of the crime scene, the public prosecutor’s office may classify the act as an attempted homicide.

Interstate Interest Group on ATM Blasting (LIGA)

In order to resolutely counter the dangerous crime phenomenon, several German states therefore joined forces as early as December 2022 to form the Interstate Community of Interest in ATM Blasting (LIGA). The police forces of seven German states – Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein – in association with the Federal Criminal Police Office and the German Federal Police – have further coordinated and once again bundled their police measures to ensure the safety of citizens. The manhunt measures of the past few days were thus already the second joint large-scale operation. In addition to further repressive and preventive measures in the federal states, the joint cooperation is an important element in putting a stop to offenders organized in gangs.

In addition, further suspected crimes were solved during investigations and inspections during the period of the focal search operation.

This resulted in 42 arrests, including 22 provisional arrests for violation of the Narcotics Act, three for execution of existing arrest warrants and one on suspicion of burglary.

The measures carried out as part of the operation ranged from increased surveillance of ATMs to the establishment of checkpoints on interregional travel routes. The state police forces were supported by the federal police, which had placed a special focus on the entry of possible perpetrators from the Netherlands. The common goal was to deter potential groups of perpetrators from committing a crime through a strong police presence and targeted overt and covert measures.

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