Grenades and plastic explosives stolen from Portugal military base could end up in hands of terrorists

Thieves cut fence at Tancos military complex and take items including hand grenades and 1,450 rounds of ammunition

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 9:04pm

Investigators in Portugal are looking into how a gang of thieves managed to break into the national arsenal and make off with an enormous haul of weapons including anti-tank grenades, plastic explosives and more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition.

The theft from the Tancos military complex, 100km northeast of Lisbon, was discovered last Wednesday.

Reports suggest the complex’s CCTV system has been broken for the past two years.

Portugal’s defence minister, Azeredo Lopes, said the thieves cut through a perimeter fence, and he described the operation as “very professional” and a serious security breach. Lopes said Portugal’s partners in Nato and the EU had been told of the incident.

On Monday the Spanish news site El Español published an inventory of the missing items that it had obtained from Spanish counterterrorism sources.

Among the items were 1,450 9mm cartridges, 18 tear gas grenades, 150 hand grenades, 44 anti-tank grenades and 264 units of plastic explosives.

It said that when Lopes was asked about the danger of the weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, he replied: “There’s no doubt that this material is now on its way into the illegal arms market and could later be used for many different purposes, such as [terrorism].”

El Español said the Portuguese authorities had admitted that the video surveillance system had been out of commission for two years, and it said the military was stepping up security at its arsenals and would rebuild the perimeter fence at Tanco and install new CCTV apparatus.

It said investigators were looking into whether the thieves used inside information on the arsenal’s contents.

“Whoever stole the weapons knew what was in the stores,” said General Frederico Rovisco Duarte, the army’s chief of staff.

“When they chose the two stores ... which aren’t the closest ones to the entrance, conclusions have to be drawn.”

Five military commanders have been suspended following the theft, although Rovisco Duarte said there was no suggestion that any of them had been personally involved in the crime.

Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has called for a thorough investigation, saying: “There should be no doubt that this needs to be investigated all the way to the end when it comes to facts and responsibilities.”