Police in Germany have detained dozens of suspects as part of a cross-state swoop on gangs suspected of blowing up ATMs to steal cash. The phenomenon is on the rise and poses a threat to passers-by as well as property.
In a huge operation lasting several days, police in several German states arrested 42 people in connection with the blowing up of cash machines.
More than 2,500 police officers were drafted in for the operation across seven German states — Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein.
The effort from March 14 to March 17 saw police set up checkpoints on inter-regional travel routes to ramp up pressure on gangs operating across state and national boundaries. Many of the crimes are centered around ATMs from which it is easy to flee rapidly in a vehicle, for instance at service stations on the highway network.
They carried out checks on a total of around 8,000 people and over more than 5,300 vehicles. During the operation, officers registered more than 180 criminal offenses and 360 administrative offenses.
Germany recorded 496 cases of ATM detonations in 2022 — an increase of 27% on the previous year. It's thought that five attempts to blow up machines were made in one night alone.
The operation yielded other fruitful results with 42 unrelated arrests, including 22 for narcotics offenses, three for the execution of existing arrest warrants, and one for suspected burglary.
"We are convinced that by fighting together and increasingly better-protected ATMs, we can put a stop to organized gangs and break them up for good," said Beuth. "I would like to thank all police officers in the federal states for their courageous efforts over the past few days."
'Danger to life and limb'
Vice-President Martina Link from the Germany's federal investigative police force (the BKA) underlined the seriousness of the offense in damage not only to property but also to human life.
"Bystanders are directly endangered by the explosions and flying debris. The perpetrators usually flee with highly motorized getaway vehicles and at very high speeds. Here, too, there is a considerable danger to life and limb for uninvolved citizens," said Link.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser thanked police and described the move as an "important step in combating ATM blasts."
"These measures are aimed specifically at the organized gangs who carry out these crimes in different states and across borders."
"Anyone who blows up ATMs is risking the lives of bystanders. The sharp increase in the number of ATM demolitions and the frequent use of highly dangerous explosives by these unscrupulous criminal groups can endanger the lives of uninvolved third parties."
'No El Dorado for ATM bombers'
Faeser said the state would help banks to strengthen defenses against ATM robberies with more video surveillance and the use of indelible dyes and glues in machines that render stolen bank notes conspicuous and unusable.
"Germany must not become an El Dorado for ATM bombers," said North Rhine-Westhphalia's Interior Minister Herbert Reul. "It is important for us to take action today before people are killed tomorrow in these explosions, or in wild getaway drives."
Reul's counterpart in Rhineland Palatinate Michael Ebling noted that his state alone had recorded 56 ATM bombings in 2022 — more than one per week.
In December, a Hesse state official told a court that one suspected ATM bomber had been arrested with the help of crime-busting software named "Hessendata," which showed that a certain car was near several crime scenes.
While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.