Missing explosives site in France had no protection

21st July 2008, Comments 0 comments

Regional official says the storage site from which 28 kilograms of powerful plastic explosive went missing was virtually unprotected.

21 July 2008

PARIS - A storage site from which a large quantity of powerful plastic explosive went missing was virtually unprotected, the regional official in charge of security said Saturday.

The stockage of 28 kilograms of Semtex along with detonators at Corbas, near Lyon in southeast France, "was not usual, and certainly not authorised," Xavier de Fuerst also said.

He told AFP the site, a former fort, had been sold by the defence ministry to the interior ministry in 2005.

"At the time it was protected by cameras but now there are only the shells. Work was planned in 2009 to put back the cameras and strengthen the entrances."

De Fuerst said the fort was ideal for storing explosives, as there was no threat to local people, but staff had "lowered their guard through overconfidence".

While the presence of the explosives would only have been known to the dozen or so personnel using the site, "ill-intentioned people could have observed their comings and goings" and deduced what was there.

De Fuerst also told RTL radio the fort, an annexe to a mine disposal base, had been planned to hold explosives, but not until the end of 2009, after necessary security measures against intrusion had been taken.

"The explosives had probably been there since the beginning of 2008. The commander of the centre had anticipated the fact that he would have official authorisation by the end of 2009, but the security measures were not in place," de Fuerst said.

He said neither the local authorities nor the police had been aware that the explosives were there.

Thierry Butin, the mayor of Corbas, said: "I am extremely surprised and angry that from one day to the next you can store products as dangerous as this, without any protection," he added.

The base had not been made available to the mine disposal team, he told Europe 1 radio.

He had even met with the civil protection authorities to discuss the work that needed to be done before any sensitive materials could be stored there.

A judiciary source said earlier Saturday that the explosives had been taken "a few days ago" but their disappearance was only noticed on Friday. He refused to say what leads investigators were following.

France's Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said in a statement that the incident stemmed from "known failings within the site's own security," adding that the site chief had been "immediately suspended" and a full probe ordered.

"A theft of explosives used by bomb-disposal experts to destroy munitions retrieved from former battlefields has taken place on a site adjacent to the supply depot...," the minister's statement said.

"The investigation has to find out how they could have been stolen," said a police source, adding that the authorities in Paris are "taking this case very seriously."

Detectives in Lyon are investigating along with the country's anti-terrorist squad.
Semtex is a powerful explosive, odourless and practically impossible to detect, which is regularly used by terrorist organisations.

It is used mainly by France's bomb-disposal services to blow up munitions dating from the two world wars which still regularly surface on former battlefields.

The incident comes just weeks after a French special forces soldier wounded 17 civilians attending a demonstration at a base open day in the country's southwest after accidentally firing live bullets instead of blanks.

[AFP / Expatica]

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