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Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The ever so slightly worrying case of the stolen Semtex

There has been a fair bit of news coming out of France over the past week with much of it making the international headlines.

Of course a great deal of attention has been directed towards a certain two-wheeled sporting event that's slowly but surely wending its way around the country (note, no mention of the "D" word). And there was the polemic surrounding the case of a Moroccan woman, refused citizenship because her wearing of the burqa was deemed as evidence that she hadn't "assimilated enough into French society."

On the environmental front there have been the two uranium leaks in less than a fortnight. And of course in politics, that guaranteed cure for all insomniacs, constitutional reform, passed by a joint session of parliament on Monday by the skin of its proverbial teeth.

But sandwiched in between all of those, and barely creating a ripple in the international headlines was the story of the stolen Semtex.

On Friday, the French interior ministry admitted that anti-terrorist police had begun looking for 28 kilogrammes of the stuff, stolen from a security depot on the outskirts of Lyon, the country's third largest city.

Just to make matters worse - as if they could be - detonators were also stolen.

Semtex is an almost odourless plastic explosive and, as the French media was quick to point out when the news broke, has in the past been used by terrorist groups. Most notably perhaps back in 1988 when just half a kilogramme was used to cause the explosion which brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland.

Equally embarrassing and worrying to officials here in France is that since news of the theft was released, it has transpired that the site hadn't actually been upgraded to meet the necessary standards for storing such explosives. The disused 19th century fort was bought by the interior ministry three years ago and was due for a security makeover next year.

Xavier de Fuerst, the regional head of security, admitted as much on national radio on Saturday.

"The fort was a very good location for such a (storage) site," he said. "It represents no danger to the local population and was due to be made more secure in 2009."

"The management of the site had perhaps 'dropped their guard'," he continued. "It was a case of overconfidence."

Semtex is used in France to destroy bombs and ammunition left over from the two World Wars.

The only official word on the matter so far from the interior minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, has been that there had been "security failings" at the depot and that the head of the site had been suspended from duty.

An internal inquiry has been launched to discover how security could have failed so miserably to enable the 28 kilogrammes to be stolen, while police are remaining tight-lipped about their ongoing investigations.

1 comment:

Caoimhin said...

Great post, you should also publish this on ;)

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