Multi-million dollar diamond heist highlights airport security failure

Robbery prompts calls for renewed focus on perimeter protection


diamondAirport perimeter security is under scrutiny again, following a reported $67 million diamond robbery at Brussels Zaventem. The heist occurred within the supposedly secure airside of the airport and took the heavily armed robbers a mere 11 minutes from entry to exit to execute.

The speed with which this audacious robbery took place has prompted many aviation analysts, including those attending the forthcoming Counter Terror Expo being held at London Olympia from 24-25 April, to conclude that it must have been conceived with insider knowledge.

The thieves apparently cut a hole in the security fence, drove two vehicles directly to a Zurich bound Helvetic Airways plane, carried out the robbery with surgical precision at gunpoint, then exited the airport in the same way.

An unnamed source at the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC) said the robbery was one of the biggest ever, adding that the global diamond business is worth more than $60 billion annually, with around $200 million worth of stones moving in and out of the city daily. Precious gemstones are generally transported by air since this is perceived as the most secure and least risk method by insurers of such cargo. Belgian police are focusing their attention on leaked information from either airport, airline, handling agent or courier personnel, as they get to grips with the investigation.

The heavily armed gang knew that an access gate was not locked and construction work meant that they could easily cut through a second security perimeter fence. They also displayed a working knowledge of how to open the Fokker 100 cargo hatch and seemingly had knowledge of which packets of diamonds to steal.

Brussels airport will separately have to answer the wider question as to why its evidently poor perimeter security arrangements and marked lack of a meaningfully prompt response aided the thieves. Airport perimeters have been breeched multiple times globally during the past twelve months. These breeches have ranged from accidental to purposeful and include briefly reported cases of stowaways seeking a better life elsewhere. The diamond heist represents the latest in this long line of perimeter security breaches, but it may become the catalyst for more robust defences to be deployed at our major airports.

Counter Terror Expo has identified this type of threat and focused upon perimeter security at airports and many other high-risk installations since its inception. Throughout the conference, workshop focus groups and within the context of its exhibition, this annual event has continued to call for more robust perimeter security defences. Separately, the event has long identified the threat from within being somewhat more potent than might be assumed. The possibility of a rogue employee or employees passing information to outside forces should never be underestimated.

It is worth recalling that this latest perimeter security breech comes just a few weeks after an armed terrorist strike and subsequent hostage crisis unfolding at a major gas production installation in Algeria. That assault, which claimed the lives of 37 foreign workers, is said to be worst terrorist strike against an oil and gas installation in the 150-year history of the industry. It has prompted an urgent review of safety and security procedures, not to mention reconsideration of drilling plans.

Such persistent penetration of supposedly secure transportation and energy production facilities, speaks to a pressing need for the industry sectors concerned to up their game. The security of aviation, oil and gas infrastructure takes center stage at the forthcoming Counter Terror Expo. This world-renowned annual gathering of counter-terrorism and security professionals will convene again at London Olympia from 24-25 April 2013. Counter Terror Expo 2013 is a secure event. Please register your attendance in advance here.

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