2 January 2022, Robbers use explosive device on hotel ATM in the Netherlands, cause extensive damage

Jan Sun, 2022 Hotel Attacks

The NL Times says that at 4:20 am on 31 December 2021, a significant explosion occurred at the via Amsterdam, a modern, three-star hostel in Diemen, the Netherlands (within the greater Amsterdam area.)

The via Amsterdam is owned by a new hospitality company, Via Hostels, which has one property in Amsterdam. The company appears to be primed to build new properties in other parts of Europe.

Current press reporting says two criminals used an explosive device on the ATM inside the hotel in an attempt to rob it. Seventy people, guests and hotel staff, were in the hotel at the time of the attack. The NL Times says the explosion, “caused a great deal of damage, including windows and doorways which were destroyed.” No one was injured, however. The hotel was evacuated, and guests were put in nearby hotels. Crime scene investigators reportedly found explosive material at the site of the attack.

ATM bombing is not new

The Netherlands has experienced ATM robbing via bomb for years – as far back as 2006, reports SP Global. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that much of the time, ATM bombers in the Netherlands use triacetone triperoxide (TATP), also known as “Mother of Satan,” to Islamist jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS. There is no current indication that ATM robbers in the Netherlands are linked to al Qaeda or ISIS, however.

In 2016, says the BBC, criminal gangs bombed 79 ATMs in the Netherlands. SP Global says in 2017, it was 87. In 2018 it was 48. In 2019, 71.

As a result, Netherlands banks increased ATM physical security – usually robust physical barriers – which caused gangs to target ATMs in Germany instead, says Stuff.

In Germany, says News 24, there have been 15 ATM bombings in recent months, which has caused €2.15 million ($2.5 million) in losses. Reporting does not clarify if this was from ATM money losses, or physical damages to ATM machines and the structures they are attached to, or both.

The BBC interviewed a Rabobank official as saying, from their understanding, most ATM bombers did not abscond with much cash, but that building damages were costing millions of euros.

Stuff reports that criminals bombed 414 ATMs in Germany in 2020, a 19 % increase from 2019. German police believe that 2/3 of its ATM bombers come from the Netherlands. One German ATM bombing cell was tracked to Utrecht in the Netherlands. There, police discovered an ATM bomber training group. At one point, says Stuff, the Utrecht group suffered a technical explosives error that killed one instructor and wounded another.

ATM bombings are not isolated to Western Europe. In the US, South Carolina, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania are but four states where ATM bombers have struck. In the Pennsylvania case, robbers used a small stick of dynamite on an ATM in Philadelphia. In Brazil, criminals used an ammonium nitrate fuel oil device (ANFO) on an ATM. Explosives experts say ATM bombers have also used gelignite, PETN, mining explosives such as Powergel, and even hand grenades.

Takeaways

First, the tactic used here – explosively breaching ATMs – is an exceedingly common trend in the EU and not uncommon in the Americas and other parts of the world.

Second, the reported types of explosives used on ATMs all have tremendous destructive capacity to buildings and people, so it’s not just ATMs that are in danger. And while ATM bombers don’t want to destroy the cash they are trying to steal, on occasion, as the via Amsterdam case demonstrates, they can miscalculate. When they do, extensive building damage will occur, and human casualties are possible.

Third, and furthering point two, criminals using TATP to breach ATMs is decidedly troubling. Unlike dynamite and other commercial explosives, TATP is homemade and highly unstable. But like dynamite, it is highly destructive. That is why al Qaeda and ISIS call it “mother of Satan.” In the hands of amateurs, using too much of an explosive compound is likely, and TATP increases the possibility of error. If people had been near the via Amsterdam ATM bombing, there would have been casualties.

Fourth, from the written description of damages done by the explosion, and from imagery analyses of the structure of the hotel, Muir estimates that 15-20 large windows and glass doors might have been damaged if the ATM was in the hotel’s lobby/common area or in proximity to it. Fragile material in the interior of this area might also have been damaged. Based on this, a rough cost estimate for clean-up and permanent repairs might range from €52,763.70 – €87,939.50+ EUR ($60,000 – 100,000+ USD).

Fifth, from a strategic view, it seems that bombing ATMs can be an effective money-stealing tactic for some gangs. It is a high risk endeavor, but they do it frequently, indicating that it works, at least on occasion. For this reason, criminals in the EU, the US, and other parts of the world will not halt ATM bombings any time soon.

Sixth, in the EU – Germany and the Netherlands in particular – ATM bombings happen so often that they should be categorized in legal terms (US and/or EU equivalent) as “totality of circumstances.” Because of this, and because this tactic is trending in the US, Muir Analytics believes it should be considered totality of circumstances in America as well. Other countries should take heed of these threat trends.

Looking forward, because of these takeaways, and because of the ATM bombing at the via Amsterdam, Muir assesses that future ATM bombings could probably happen at other hotels in the EU, and possibly in the UK, the US, and other parts of the world as well. Hotels should take physical security precautions to prevent ATM bombings, and if they do happen, hotels should be prepared to deal with the damages and casualties that might occur. Hotels should review their insurance policies to make sure they are covered for ATM bombings. Liaising with the police and entities like DHS would be helpful mitigation strategies as well.

Muir Analytics runs the world’s largest, most sophisticated hotel violence database – the SecureHotel Threat Portal – with over 1,900 hotel attacks (and growing). We can provide the hospitality sector with intelligence that facilitates full-spectrum risk reduction, which helps hotels protect guests, staff, buildings, brands, and revenues. Contact us for a consultation:  1-833-DATA-444.

Sources and further reading

Explosion at Diemen hotel as robbers attempt ATM cash grab; Two at large,” NL Times, 31 December 2021.

‘Explosive device’ used in attempted theft at ATM in South Carolina,” WBTW News 13, 25 December 2021.

ATM raids: Nine arrested in the Netherlands after suspect blew himself up filming bomb tutorial,” Stuff, 1 October 2021.

ATM bomb gang blow themselves up while making tutorial videos on how to explode cash machines,” News 24, 30 September 2021.

Bomb used in attempted ATM robbery in Seaside,” KSBW Action News 8, 22 September 2021.

Dutch banks seek solutions to ‘much more violent’ spate of ATM bomb attacks,” SP Global, 16 January 2020.

Florida robber blows up ATM, makes off with haul in latest in string of cash machine explosions, deputies say,” Fox News, 12 January 2020.

Netherlands: Explosive device damages ATM, authorities note increased use of TATP in ATM attacks,” US Department of Homeland Security, TRIPwire, 26 November 2019.

Dynamite used in attempted robbery of an ATM in Philadelphia,” CBS News, 21 June 2018.

Raman hyperspectral imaging in conjunction with independent component analysis as a forensic tool for explosive analysis: The case of an ATM explosion,” ScienceDirect.com, originally published in Talanta, Volume 174, 1 November 2017, p 628-632.

Security guards to protect Dutch ATMs from explosion thefts,” BBC, 3 May 2017.

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