[ISN] Record $39M Robbed From N. Ireland Bank

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Wed Dec 22 02:37:12 EST 2004


[This caught me as interesting for all the levels of security that had 
to be breached for this robbery to have taken place.   - WK]

December 21, 2004 

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) - In one of the world's biggest 
robberies, thieves took the families of two top bankers hostage and 
forced the bosses to help them steal more than $39 million from the 
vaults of a Belfast bank's main office, authorities said Tuesday. 

Experts said Monday's raid on the Northern Bank cash center was the 
biggest robbery since 1987, when thieves made off with about $65 
million in cash and other valuables from the Knightsbridge Safe 
Deposit Center in west London. 

The tactics in Belfast - particularly the use of hostage-taking as a 
way to infiltrate a high-security target - suggested a level of 
sophistication and experience most commonly found within Northern 
Ireland's rival outlawed groups, particularly the Irish Republican 

``This isn't a gang of Belfast criminals who just got together. It's 
more than that. This looks like a military operation with obvious 
connotations,'' said John O'Connor, a former commander of Scotland 
Yard's elite detective unit in London. 

Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid, the police officer leading the 
investigation, said his detectives didn't yet know whether a 
particular group was responsible for what he called a ``clearly well 
organized'' raid. 

In the neighboring Irish Republic, Justice Minister Michael McDowell 
said peacemaking efforts could be hurt if police linked the raid to 
the IRA, which is known to have robbed banks in the past to finance 

The IRA has observed a truce since 1997 but remains active, running 
criminal rackets such as smuggling fuel and cigarettes. Diplomatic 
efforts to revive a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland 
involving Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party backed by most Roman 
Catholics, have repeatedly stumbled over other groups' demands that 
the IRA disarm and disband. 

Police didn't learn about the heist until three hours after the 
robbers had left in a truck filled with cash from underground vaults 
at the bank's downtown headquarters. 

Kinkaid said masked gunmen invaded the homes of two senior employees 
of Northern Bank late Sunday and warned that if the executives didn't 
cooperate or tried to raise an alarm, their families would be killed. 
The families were held at gunpoint at undisclosed locations outdoors 
where overnight temperatures were near freezing. 

About 6 p.m. Monday, Kinkaid said, the robbers began clearing out 
vaults packed with cash ready to be distributed to the bank's 95 
branches and hundreds of automated teller machines across Northern 

Both families ``suffered great trauma'' during their abduction but 
were released unharmed, except for one person who needed treatment for 
hypothermia, he said. 

Kinkaid said the bank hadn't been able to provide an exact figure for 
the amount of stolen, partly because police shut down its offices for 
forensic examination, but he said it might exceed 20 million pounds, 
or about $39 million. 

Other security officials said the vaults held closer to $58 million 
because of the heavy cash needs of the Christmas holidays. 

The Guinness Book of World Records lists the theft of gold bullion 
from the central bank of Nazi Germany in 1944 and 1945 as the biggest 
of all time, valued in 1984 at $4 billion. The largest ``normal'' bank 
robbery is listed as the 1976 theft of $50 million in cash and 
deposit-box valuables from a Lebanese bank. 

O'Connor said the gang researched Northern Bank's security systems 
expertly. He said the two bank officials probably were targeted 
because there were ``two lots of combinations on the vault, so no one 
person has the knowledge.'' 

He said the gang must have had more than a dozen members, with at 
least four guarding each hostage family. Such a gang ``must be 
confident with each other that they're all staunch and they won't roll 
over in the event of being nicked (arrested),'' he said. 

The IRA previously gained access to high-security targets by taking 
the families of employees hostage, most infamously in October 1990, 
when it forced civilian employees of the police to drive car bombs to 
three British military installations. Six soldiers and a chef died in 
the remote-control blasts. 

Police say the IRA still uses hostage-taking in its criminal 
operations. They cite an incident in May when the IRA was accused of 
taking staff hostage at a retail superstore, then stealing more than 
$7.75 million in alcohol, appliances and other goods. 

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