Gunmen in daring US$50m diamond heist on Brussels airport

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 3:25am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 6:56am

Machine-gun-toting robbers disguised as police made off with diamonds worth US$50 million in a spectacular heist on the tarmac at Brussels’ Zaventem airport.

Monday night’s robbery was “one of the biggest” ever, said a spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, the global dealers syndicate.

Eight “heavily armed and hooded” thieves pulled up on the runway in two black vehicles with blue police-like markings, Brussels prosecutors’ spokeswoman Anja Bijnens said. They opened security barriers and sped towards an aircraft, where they forced open the cargo hold to reach the rough gems.

Bijnens said the raiders seized “at least 120 packages”, which was only a “partial” haul from the shipment aboard the Zurich-bound Helvetic Airways flight. Police later found a burned-out vehicle close to the airport. 

An airport spokesman could not explain how the area could be so vulnerable. “We abide by the most stringent rules,” he said.

Insurance for air transport is usually relatively cheap because it is considered the safest way of transporting small, high-value items, logistics experts say.

Unlike a car or a truck, a plane cannot be attacked by robbers once it’s on its way, and it is considered to be very safe because it is always within the confines of an airport, which would normally be highly secured.

British aviation security consultant Philip Baum said the robbery was worrying – not because the fence was breached but because the response did not appear to have been immediate.  

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse