Fifth suspect arrested for dramatic heist at Tirana airport

24 April 2019 - 09:46 By AFP
An Albanian Military policeman stands guard outside Mother Teresa International Airport in Tirana on April 11, 2019.
An Albanian Military policeman stands guard outside Mother Teresa International Airport in Tirana on April 11, 2019.
Image: GENT SHKULLAKU / AFP

A fifth suspect has been arrested over the Hollywood-style theft of several million euros of cash on the tarmac of Tirana's airport, police said Tuesday.

The latest arrest carried out on Monday night follows the detention of four others, aged 25 to 38, whose arrests were announced earlier by police.

All are residents of Albania and have been charged with armed robbery and illegal possession of weapons, police said.

Officers "found evidence that will help the investigation", which "has been handed over to the prosecutor's office," police added.

An armed and masked gang gained access to the runway of the Albanian capital's Mother Teresa airport on April 9 and stole money that was about to be loaded onto an Austrian Airlines flight and destined for a bank in Vienna.

Police have not revealed the amount stolen but local media reports range from six to 10 million euros ($6.7-11.2 million), whisked away in under five minutes.

Prime Minister Edi Rama welcomed the fifth arrest on Twitter, thanking "the intensive and professional work of the state police".

One of the suspects, a known criminal cast by the media as the likely ring leader, was killed in a shootout with the police during a chase.

According to Albanian media reports, among those in custody is an Islamist who studied theology in Yemen and went on to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, where he was arrested by US forces in 2006 and deported to Albania.

Police have not confirmed that report.

Media also said two of the other suspects are believed to be responsible for disguising their car as a tax authority vehicle, which helped breach airport security.

Rama heaped blame on the Chinese state-owned company that has operated the international airport since 2016, saying they had "failed to guarantee" security.

There have been a string of robberies on the road to Tirana's airport in recent years.

Many foreign banks operating in Albania send hard currency abroad because the local central bank does not accept such deposits for security reasons. 

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