This article originally appeared on VICE France.
Even if most of us are using cash less and less in our daily lives these days, the fact is that it is much harder to track than digital transactions. This—plus, maybe, the idea that you can sleep like a baby on a mattress lined with money—makes cash more desirable for people involved in any sort of shady business than cold, hard electronic transactions. Which in turn makes cash machines ideal targets for people in urgent need of an insane amount of money—as long as they are cool with using skimming tactics, gas bombs, or ram-raids to get it. In 2015, 451 attacks on cash machines took place in the UK alone, which was up from the 400 raids carried out in 2014.
Amine* is one of those people not afraid to take extreme and illegal measures for his cash. Nearing 30, he's currently employed in retail but supplements his income with some excessively lucrative robbing. He agreed to talk to me about one of his biggest jobs.
VICE: Can you tell me a little about your background?
Amine: I think I went down the same path as most young delinquents. I started dealing weed in high school, then moved on to stealing motocross bikes, scooters, cars—I pretty much did everything that was likely to make me quick money. I wasn't rich, but I was living quite comfortably without having to work hard for it. I went on holidays, and I could afford designer clothes for when I went out on weekends. When I was about nineteen or twenty, I started working an actual job, but I'm still making extra money on the side. I've never been caught, which is an incentive to keep going.
How did you go from petty crime to robbing cash machines?
I just met the right people—or the wrong people. I became friends with them because they're like me: resourceful, serious, and motivated to make as much money as quickly as possible. We formed a small group of six or seven people. Our speciality was mugging, but we also did some burglaries and carjacking. We don't all work at the same time often—a simple break-in only requires a couple of us.
So you're a gang?
Basically, yes. We only work when we have concrete plans and never leave anything to chance—which has given us a reputation in that world. So people will come to us telling us that a cash-in-hand sale is taking place at a certain date and place, or that a trader is storing some of his winnings at home. Then we make a quick assessment of the benefits and the drawbacks and decide whether we should go for it or not. We usually get our tips from friends or relatives of the victims. It's often their cheated wives who see a chance to take revenge and make a bit of money.
"I've been known to throw a few punches or threaten people with a gun if they are resisting. I think that's all part of the job."
Do you ever think about the people you've hurt?
No. I'm not some sort of Robin Hood who just steals from businesses. Individuals or businesses—I don't care. I prefer cash to be in my pocket rather than in someone else's. I've never killed anyone, and I don't use violence when people are cooperating. But I've been known to throw a few punches or threaten people with a gun if they are resisting. I think that's all part of the job. As for any psychological damage it might cause, that doesn't keep me awake at night. I've never met my victims, and I don't really think about the impact that I might have on them.
Could you tell me about the first time you robbed a cash machine?
One day, a couple of the guys on my team met a former robber who knew how to do it. You can't just pick a random bank and go about it without planning. I'd prefer to stay a bit vague, but, in some areas, deliveries are made through cash couriers who go with the loader. They parallel park next to the cash machine to avoid an attack by ram-raiding.
In other places, the loader is alone—that's what we were looking for. Nobody wants it to end up in a blood bath for just €40,000 [$45,000] per person. It's also important to find out whether the bank stains its notes or not. There's really nothing more frustrating than getting bank notes covered in ink.
I see. And then what?
You have to wait until the guy starts loading the machine—timing is everything. And location too: The cash machine has to be in a place where you can ram-raid it. We use the car to break down the door next to the cash machine—the one the guy loading the machine uses. You can't have any pavements that can slow you down when you want to get away, and the machine has to be out in the open—or you should be at least able to get next to it with the car.
How did you prepare?
We did a lot of jogging in the run up to the attack, to stay in shape. You always have to be able to count on your legs when you run into trouble, and it helps with dealing with stress, too. When you're on a job, your heart beats really fast. You have to be able to stay calm.
For the job itself, you start with monitoring the cash machine. You park in a quiet corner and keep lookout for hours and hours, waiting for the loaders to come by. You learn their different schedules and the different routes they take. You have to be there every day for a few weeks to avoid any surprises on the big day.
Of course, you can't afford to have people in the neighborhood get suspicious. So we organized ourselves like this: Two people hang around the cash machine, and two others hang around at both ends of the street to make sure it's not being watched by police—we all stay in constant contact with one another on our phones. To ensure anonymity, we use pay-as-you-go SIM cards. The phones are only switched on in the area, never close to our homes.
What do you take into consideration when drafting your escape plan?
We had to calculate the distance between the cash machine and the closest police station to know how quickly the police could get there. Knowing where the city's surveillance cameras were was also essential, because the police use them a lot during their investigation. So we had to park the getaway car where it wouldn't be seen on camera.
What else did you need?
We had three stolen cars and a gun, just in case. We used sub-contractors to get the cars—you can ask them to steal something for you, and they make sure that they remove all the satellite systems in them. Those systems are increasingly common in big cars. We asked the sub-contractors for three sports cars and a 4x4 to serve as a battering ram. We got that for €9,000 [$10,000]. We could have arranged for them ourselves, but we didn't have much time given the other preparations for the robbery. We used our network to get the weapon—we found a piece for €1,500 ($1,700).
Once you'd finished the preparations, what was there left to do?
We had a final meeting three or four hours before the job, just to check that everything was in place and that everyone knew what they had to do. After that meeting, one of us left to park the car just in front of the cash machine so that no one would snatch our spot. Meanwhile, one of us dropped off one car in the countryside—which would let us get home safely. Once that was all set, we met up in a garage to spread out in the two remaining cars. I was in the 4x4—which would be the battering ram—my three partners were in a German car.
We drove to the cash machine, parked a bit away from it, and waited for the loader. I set my timer, and once the time was up, I rammed into the door next to the cash machine. It yielded easily. My colleagues followed behind quickly with their car, two of them ran into the little room and one quickly held the loader at bay while the other one held guard at the door with a gun in his hand. Within three minutes, they'd filled our car with notes in all different colors. I just had enough time to set the 4x4 on fire to make sure we didn't leave any fingerprints or traces of DNA. Then we all got into the getaway car and one of my colleagues put his foot down until we got to the countryside. Driving at one hundred ten miles an hour at night, through tiny streets, with no headlights—I can tell you that was terrifying.
And then what happened?
We found a quiet place where we split the cash and went our separate ways. I spent hours and hours counting my money. That first night, I was too excited to sleep. Frankly, counting a big wad of cash is the best thing that can happen in a man's life. Once I landed back on Earth, I booked a holiday abroad. I needed a break because I had been working seven days a week for two months.
Why didn't you want to holiday in your home country?
Well, getting away with €145,000 [$160,000] isn't nothing. The cops were going to use all their means to find us, so you want to lie low. And you want to make sure only the people who were part of the job know about it. The cops are willing to overlook the crimes of small dealers in exchange for a big tip-off. So we're never safe from someone who just wants to save his or her skin. A tip-off isn't enough for them to lock us up, but it helps them because they'll know what to look for. But after the robbery, if you've done everything right, you've got nothing to worry about—unless the police start using some revolutionary investigation tactics.
*Name has been changed for obvious reasons.