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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 18:31 GMT
$3m heist at Heathrow
SAA jet at Heathrow
The stolen cash arrived at Heathrow on an SAA flight
Millions of dollars in cash has been stolen in a security van raid at Heathrow Airport - the second in five weeks.

The $3.2m (2.25m) arrived in the UK on a South African Airlines flight SA234 from Johannesburg.

It was being transferred to a security van when it was hijacked by two men at 0730GMT.

The men, described as Asian and in their twenties, forced the driver to drive out of Heathrow at knifepoint to nearby Cranford.

Click here for a larger map that explains what happened
Enlarge image Enlarge map

The money was transferred to another vehicle before the hijackers made off.

The security van was abandoned in Church Road, Cranford, and the driver was unhurt.

Detective Superintendent Tim White, of the Flying Squad, said: "The driver of the vehicle immediately alerted police and is currently assisting with our inquiries."

He initially only said a "substantial amount of cash" in two silver containers had been stolen, although police confirmed the exact figure later.

South African Airways said that this was the first time there had been an incident since ADI Securicor had begun to transport the airline's cargo more than five years ago.

'Inside job'

This is the second such heist at the airport this year.

On 11 February thieves made off with 4.6m in foreign cash at Terminal Four after raiding a British Airways (BA) security van in a secure zone "airside".

Police believe that raid, in which two robbers were armed only with plastic wrist ties, may have been an inside job.

They attacked the driver of a BA security van in a cargo loading area near Terminal Four, which they may have accessed using legitimate passes.

They escaped in another BA van with eight boxes of cash, which had just been taken off a jet from Bahrain.

After that robbery, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, who is responsible for aviation security, and Home Secretary David Blunkett demanded an "urgent report" into the implications as it took place during a period of heightened security after 11 September.

Security van
Detectives scour the abandoned security van
A spokesman for the Department of Transport, which sets the standards that airports have to meet on aviation security, said: "Ministers have demanded an urgent report from BAA about this incident."

Chris Yates, aviation security editor for Jane's Transport, said he was in no doubt the latest raid must have been an inside job.

He said: "Passengers should be extremely worried. If they can get airside they have access to aircraft. It only takes seconds to board an empty aircraft and plant a bomb.

"One wonders if the government is only paying lip service to the issue of airport security. The inquiry should have taken less time."

A man arrested on Tuesday in London over last month's robbery was later released without charge.

He was detained by police at around 0600GMT but was released after questioning with no further action being taken, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.

The Flying Squad has appealed for witnesses to both raids and said a reward was being offered for information about the February robbery.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Heathrow's reputation for security has taken a battering"
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"An audacious robbery"
Aviation security expert Chris Yates
"We have to ask some very serious questions"
MP for the Heathrow area John McDonnell
"What we need is a review of the security industy in relation to airports"
See also:

19 Mar 02 | UK
Heathrow's February heist
18 Feb 02 | UK
Great heists of our time
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