by Alex Francis
The diamond district in Antwerp, Belgium, is considered one of the most-secure places in all of Europe. Trading $200 million in rough and polished gemstones every day, the district conducts countless identity checks, is outfitted with about 2,000 surveillance cameras, and is constantly monitored by police.
The precautions seem to be paying off, as Antwerp itself has not been the victim of a major heist since 2003, but the Brussels airport, just 27 miles away, is having trouble maintaining a similar level of security.
At 8:05 p.m. on February 18, Swiss Flight LX789 was scheduled to take off for Zurich, Switzerland, with millions of dollars worth of diamonds in tow. Up until approximately 7:47, everything seemed to be running smoothly. It was at that time an armored car had just finished offloading all of the diamonds into the plane, and it was at that time that eight armed, hooded robbers made their move.
Driving two vehicles with flashing blue police lights through the airport’s perimeter fence, the thieves headed straight for the tarmac and transferred the precious cargo from the plane’s hold to their van before making a quick getaway. Not a single shot was fired, and the entire operation lasted no longer than five minutes.
The precision with which this heist was conducted has shocked, amazed, and troubled those involved in the investigation. Doron Levy, an expert in airport security at a risk management company in France, commented, “I am certain this was an inside job,” adding that the entire plan was both “incredibly audacious and well organized.”
From the knowledge of the delivery time to the breach of airport security, it is clear that the thieves’ plan was carefully thought out. In regard to the tight time window in which the robbers operated, Caroline De Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, noted that “The people who did this knew there was going to be this gap [between loading the diamonds and takeoff] and when.”
While the thieves remain unidentified and at large, police did find the burnt remains of a white van near the airport that they believed was used in the heist.
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