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Combating ATM blasts: SoKo presents interim results
Minister Reul: We are getting better, but blasters continue to endanger the life and limb of innocent people
Ministry of the Interior of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia
Ministry of the Interior NRW

The Ministry of the Interior announces:

The Special Commission to Combat and Investigate ATM Explosions at the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of the Interior (SoKo BE-GAS) has been in operation since April 2022. A lot has happened since then: To date, 35 - predominantly Dutch - suspects have been arrested, the manhunt has been intensified, investigations have been centralized in the major authorities, blast tests have been carried out on ATMs and cooperation across authorities, states and borders has been expanded. Last but not least, in December 2022, the police prepared an individual risk assessment for the more than 10,000 ATMs in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Interior Minister Herbert Reul sums up: "We are getting better, but the explosives continue to pose an acute threat to the life and limb of innocent people. Too many vending machines are still blowing up, often taking parts of buildings with them. In the first six months of this year alone, there were 83, a drop of 15 percent compared to the same period last year. However, the figure also shows that, as with other criminal phenomena, there is no panacea for this modern form of bank robbery. Many different measures are needed that work together holistically. And it helps to understand how these criminal gangs operate. The BEGAS agenda remains the same: To make business miserable for the blasters."

The head of BEGAS is criminal director Christa Lübbers. She has been with the police for almost 30 years and knows that a lot of perseverance is required to get to grips with the phenomenon of "ATM blasts": "It's about understanding the crime scenes and reading the traces correctly. We also have to think about how we can work together with the banks to protect the cash and secure the machines so that the perpetrators are unsuccessful and leave it alone next time."

In most cases, several loads of explosives are used in the attacks. It is often not only the vending machines themselves that are damaged, but also surrounding residential buildings and stores. Property damage is not always the end of the story. In the past two years, the police in North Rhine-Westphalia have registered six minor injuries to uninvolved persons who have been shocked.

In April 2023, test blasts were carried out at several ATMs in collaboration with the police in Lower Saxony - which has to deal with ATM blasts in a similar way to North Rhine-Westphalia -, the security officers from the savings bank associations in North Rhine-Westphalia, Targobank, the Bundesbank and VdS Schadenverhütung. This also involved testing passive coloring systems that render the cash unusable in the event of a blast and identify it as stolen property. In North Rhine-Westphalia, banks can obtain expert advice from the crime prevention advice centers of the district police authorities and work with them to determine which security measures are appropriate for their machines. In the past 12 months, the number of coloring systems installed has increased from an initial five percent to 20 percent - and the trend is rising.

Interior Minister Reul is pleased about the good cooperation with the financial sector in this area: "I am pleased that many banks are upgrading their ATMs. The BEGAS special commission, the North Rhine-Westphalia State Office of Criminal Investigation and the district police authorities are on hand to provide advice. Because one thing is clear: our ATMs and the money in them are not fair game. We need to see what is possible to make ATMs more robust. We all want to and will make it more difficult for criminals to break into ATMs every day. After all, secure ATMs also mean more security for uninvolved third parties."

Since June 2023, responsibility for investigations has been concentrated on the six major police authorities in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, Münster and Bielefeld together with the North Rhine-Westphalia State Office of Criminal Investigation. The pooling of expertise and specialist knowledge enables investigations to be conducted at a high level in these complex investigations. Prior to this step, forensics had already been assigned to the 16 district police authorities with forensic investigation units (KTU) since May 2022. "This ensures that no trace is lost. The integration of the KTU has become standard. It guarantees qualified forensics at every crime scene. To do this, it records the crime scene with a three-dimensional laser scanner or a drone," said Minister Reul.

With the close support of SoKo BEGAS, the State Criminal Police Office of North Rhine-Westphalia created a state-wide risk assessment, a kind of "risk map", of almost all ATMs in North Rhine-Westphalia. This allows banks and other ATM operators to see the extent to which their ATMs are at risk. Based on this, further individual security measures can be taken. Factors such as the distance to the state border or freeway were included in the risk assessment.

BEGAS is a five-member special commission in the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of the Interior that deals with the holistic approach to combating the criminal phenomenon of ATM explosions. The aim is to work together with the police authorities in the state, the banks, the state and federal authorities and, in particular, the Dutch police authorities to improve investigations and take measures to prevent blasts more effectively. The deployment of SoKo BEGAS was initially extended until March 31, 2024.



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