Explosives, Grenades, and Detonators Stolen from French Army Base

The thieves cut through two rows of fencing surrounding the compound and broke into nine warehouses used to stockpile ammunition for France’s foreign missions.

by Pierre Longeray
Jul 7 2015, 7:40pm

Photo of Miramas military base via Google Maps

French authorities are investigating the theft of explosives, grenades, and detonators from a military site in the southern French city of Miramas, according to French media reports.

Soldiers discovered on Monday that two protective fences around the base had been cut, prompting officials to conduct an immediate inventory. According to the French radio station RTL, the thieves helped themselves to 176 detonators, ten 250-gram charges of plastic explosives, 66 devices used to set off grenades, and 40 "grenade bodies" that make up the explosive part of the weapons.

Plastic explosives such as the ones stolen from the Miramas army base are extremely powerful and are often used by the military instead of dynamite, which is traditionally used for demolition work. The most common type of plastic explosive on the market is the C-4 — a highly malleable explosive that looks like a white lump of clay.

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According to a source close to the investigation, the thieves appear to have simply cut through two rows of fencing surrounding the 250-hectare compound overnight from Sunday to Monday before escaping with their loot the same way they came in. They broke into nine warehouses in an area of the site that has no security cameras, according to Europe 1.

A source cited in local daily La Provence said that the thieves appeared to have been "very well informed. This raises questions internally."

"The main ammunition store in Miramas, from which explosives and detonators were stolen this weekend."

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced in a statement that he had ordered an investigation into the break-in, in an effort to determine responsibility for any security breaches. Le Drian also said that he had launched a probe into other military sites where weapons and ammunition are stockpiled. The investigation into the theft is being led by the research section and the forensic science department of the French National Gendarmerie (IRCGN).

Some 200 soldiers train at the base in Miramas, which is used to stockpile weapons and ammunition for France's foreign missions, but only the guards and a few troops are housed on site at night.

Frédéric Vigouroux, the Socialist mayor of Miramas, described the incident as "bizarre" when the French weekly L'Express asked him whether the security of the compound, which can easily be seen using Google Maps, should be doubted.

"Servicemen are professionals, [they are] extremely serious, they don't mess around when it comes to security," he said.

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Recently, the base served as a logistical platform for Operation Serval, the French army's intervention in Mali. Launched in January 2013 to oust Islamic militants stationed in the north of Mali, the operation helped the Malian government regain control of the militant stronghold of Gao. During Operation Serval, 1,100 French servicemen passed through the Miramas army base, either on their way to or returning from Mali.

The facility has also served as abasefor other French military operations focused abroad, including in Chad, Guyana, New Caledonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Senegal, Tanzania, and Albania.

The theft of the explosives comes despite French authorities remaining onhigh alertsince the January terror attacks that left 17 dead in a spree of shootings in and around Paris. French news outlets have referred to a possible terror motive behind the heist.

Others have speculated that the theft could be the work of a criminal gang — a theory also put forth by French organized crime expert Thierry Colombié, who told VICE News that such gangs sometimes rely on explosives during hold-ups. In May 2010, armed thieves attacked an armored vehicle used to transport money near Marseille, using explosives to blow off its doors.

The French Joint Ammunition Agency currently manages 20 warehouse sites for the three branches of the French armed service. The Miramas base is the biggest site in the region.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
Image of Miramas military base via Google Maps