Highly mobile gangs blew open hundreds of automatic cash dispensers in Germany last year. Police suspect groups from eastern and southern Europe as well the Netherlands, operating at night.
Germany's federal BKA investigative police bureau recorded 256 explosive raids on bank cash dispensers in the first 10 months of 2016, almost double the count of the previous year.
Bonn's "General-Anzeiger" and the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger (KstA) newspapers highlighted the crimes series on Thursday by describing police detaining two suspects from the Netherlands on Wednesday morning.
The suspects were caught as they tried to blow open a Sparda Bank's automated teller machine (ATM) or cashpoint device in Hagen, a city in North-Rhine Westphalia state's Ruhr District.
Police said the suspects had just laid welding-style hoses to feed explosive gases into an ATM at the bank when an SEK police special force complete with police dogs intervened at 3.30 a.m..
The two men arrested, aged 24 and 42, have stayed mute, pending a court hearing on Friday.
Bonn's General-Anzeiger quoted the head of NRW's investigative bureau, Stephan Becker, as saying that perpetrators came highly equipped, even with a jamming transmitter to interrupt mobile communications and a foot scooter to keep their escape route flexible.
To disguise their identities such gangs - operating in groups of up to four and traveling in fast cars - wore masks and "Hema" full-body rainwear suits.
Three suspected accomplices had also been detained in the Rhine river city of Duisburg on Wednesday. Numerous items, including 16 gas bottles, were found in garages in Dormagen, Wuppertal, Duisburg and Cologne, General-Anzeiger reported.
Cologne police suspected a group of some 250 Moroccan men operating from the Amsterdam and Utrecht regions in the Netherlands, the GA and KStA reported.
Rapid escape routes preferred
Previously, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" newspaper had reported that criminal groups' preferred targets were free-standing ATMs at bank outlets, mainly in NRW and Lower Saxony, one of Germany's northern states.
The BKA - based in Wiesbaden and roughly Germany's equivalent of the American FBI - said typically ATM crime localities were in rural areas with rapid traffic connections.
More recent targets were ATMs located in hardware stores, shopping passages and multi-apartment blocks, putting residents especially at risk.
To blow open dispensers, the perpetrators used expert knowledge on explosives. Police knew of only one case in which a perpetrator had caused severe injury to themselves due to a mishap.
Banks adopting deterrence tactics
To deter assailants, German banks have begun fitting their ATMs with gas neutralization systems to prevent an explosive mix being inserted.
Warning stickers on such ATMs are printed in five languages. Silent alarms are set off if a disturbance occurs, and cash in cassettes inside are sprayed with colored dye.
The Berlin-based association of private German banks, the Bankenverband, says Germany currently has a network of 60,000 automated teller machines.
ATMs form part of the EU's single euro payments area (SEPA). It is supposed to harmonize cashless payments across Europe.
ipj/msh (dpa, AFP)