PARIS (AP) — At least one thief sneaked into a French military munitions compound and made off with a stash of detonators, grenades and explosives, officials said Tuesday, stoking security concerns in a country reeling from recent attacks by extremists.
French authorities were investigating the mystery theft of 180 detonators, 40 grenades and 10 blocks of 250 grams of plastic explosives from the multi-service Miramas military site near Marseille in southeast France, officials said. One said the culprit or culprits appeared to have cut through security fencing to get inside.
The break-in, believed to have taken place overnight Sunday to Monday, has sent a shudder through a country that recently has raised its terrorism alert status to the highest level after deadly attacks by extremists in January and last month. The defense minister ordered an immediate review of security at France's military weapons stockpiles.
Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said in a statement that an investigation has begun on charges of "theft with break-in carried out by a criminal group" and "fraudulent entry into a military compound."
Speaking to The Associated Press, Robin declined to provide details but said simply: "All leads are under consideration. No single lead is being ruled out" about whether the perpetrator or perpetrators might have terrorism or other criminal motivations.
Officials with the gendarmerie police force, which generally runs law enforcement in rural areas, said the thief or thieves appeared to have cut through a fence to enter the high-security site. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly because the operation is ongoing.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian ordered an investigation into how the break-in was organized and who might be responsible. He also instructed a new office in charge of protecting such sites to review the security for all French military weapons stocks and propose "corrective measures" within 15 days, he said in a statement.
Miramas Mayor Frederic Vigouroux told the AP that nine storehouses were affected in the theft — the first at the site. The 200-hectare (500-acre) base sits on the outskirts of the town of 30,000 and stocks munitions like those used in French military operations in Mali and Afghanistan.
"It wasn't cotton candy that was stolen," Vigouroux said. "These are dangerous munitions."
Col. Gilles Jaron, a spokesman for French military, said about 160 civilians and soldiers work on the site daily, and guards with sniffer dogs patrol behind two fences separated by a "no-man's-land." He said the explosives are not specialty munitions and relatively easy to use, destined for use by many types of military personnel.
Lori Hinnant and Philippe Sotto contributed from Paris.