Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Explosives stolen from French army base

French soldiers guard the Eiffel Tower in January after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Security was stepped up further after the attack on a Lyon chemical plant. Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
French authorities are investigating the theft of roughly 200 detonators plus grenades and plastic explosives from a military site in southern France.

The thefts at the Miramas site, which is operated by a combination of military services west of Marseille, appeared to have taken place overnight from Sunday to Monday. The break-in came with France on its highest level of alert for terrorism following deadly attacks in January and June.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said an investigation had begun into charges of “theft with break-in carried out by a criminal group” and “fraudulent entry into a military compound”.

An official with the gendarmerie police force, which generally runs law enforcement in more rural areas of France, said the thief or thieves appeared to have cut through a fence to enter the high-security site.

Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he has ordered an investigation into how the break-in was organised and who might be responsible. He also instructed a new office in charge of protecting such sites to review the security for all French military weapons stocks and propose “corrective measures” within 15 days.

The mayor of Miramas, Frederic Vigouroux, said he did not know precisely what was stolen, but said it was the first theft at the site. He said the outer fences were broken into, and that nine storehouses were affected.

“It wasn’t cotton candy that was stolen,” he said. “These are dangerous munitions. Everything is inherently dangerous.”

A spokesman for the French military said about 160 civilians and soldiers work on the site daily, and guards with sniffer dogs patrol behind two fences separated by a “no-man’s-land”. He said the explosives are relatively easy to use.

The 200-hectare (500-acre) base sits on the outskirts of the town of 30,000 and stocks munitions of the type used in French military operations in Mali and Afghanistan.

France raised security levels after a man beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a chemical plant near Lyon on 26 June. In January gunmen in Paris killed 17 people at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store.


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