ATM explosion points to professionals

Detectives investigating the blown-up ATM in Aravete are looking at the worst possible scenario: a gang of specialists for whom Aravete was the first success after several failed attempts.

The attack on the Swedbank ATM in Aravete seems to have been planned down to the smallest details. It took the first person mere minutes to arrive at the scene when an explosion rocked the quiet Järva County town a few minutes before 2 a.m. yesterday morning.

There was no sign of the criminals by that time. They had made off with what has been estimated as tens of thousands of euros.

The fact that the perpetrators managed to avoid a local CCTV camera suggests that the heist was carried out by specialists who had experience from past attempts.

Several failed attempts

Their last unsuccessful attempt took place in Suure-Jaani, Viljandi County a mere two months ago when two masked men only managed to set fire to an ATM in front of a Konsum grocery store.

There have been two cases in the past where criminals managed to extract ATM cash cassettes but not their contents. If we add to that an incident that took place in Kohtla-Järve in May of 2015, where the ATM attached to a local Selver store was found hooked up to a gas cylinder via tubes, probably in hopes of blowing it up, we are left with a theory of a gang that specializes in hitting ATMs.

The Aravete hit was the first that succeeded. Because cash found at the scene was dry, it is believed the explosion was caused using some sort of gas that was placed inside the locked room behind the ATM.

The explosion at the back of the ATM made sure the money would come flying out of the building. That is what made it possible for criminals to leave in a hurry.

It comes as no surprise that the perpetrators had waited for the ATM to be full of cash. Swedbank reported that the ATM held around €100,000 in cash which is a lot considering the size of Aravete.

How much of it criminals managed to make off with is still unclear. The explosion that rocked the sleepy town roused most of its inhabitants that night. It took the local rescue commando just minutes to arrive at the scene. Even so, rescuers did not see a single soul around the shop.

The alarm was blaring, windows were broken, and where a Swedbank ATM had been for years there was now a hole in the wall. Much of the parking lot in front of the store was littered with broken glass and pieces of the cash machine. A few hundred euros worth of 5 and 20-euro notes covered the ground.

Bomb squad deployed

As it was immediately obvious the ATM had been blown up, rescuers and police officers cordoned off the parking lot and sent for the bomb squad to clear the area.

Local paper Järva Teataja writes that while criminals have attempted to bust ATMs in the past, Aravete was their first success. Swedbank assured Postimees that Aravete would not be left without an ATM. The building that housed the machine also has a flower shop and post office.

Manager of the Aravete Meie shop, Tiina Eha, explained that she has not been allowed to enter the shop yet, but it is clear the sales floor has been damaged.

“I saw from the camera feed that things are bad: bottles are broken in the alcohol section, the shockwave busted a water pipe that flooded the manager’s office, and even the toilet’s doorpost is damaged,” Eha said.

Mari Mäe, who lives near the shop, said that suspicious movement could be seen an hour before the explosion that night. She has given the police a video that could help catch the criminals.

Mäe added that she has seen strangers lurking in Aravete several times and believes they could be connected to the explosion. Helle-Leonide Anton said the incident was frightening.

“It’s awful, I’m afraid to live here now,” she said. Anton added that even though she has lived in Aravete for 35 years, vandalism and other mishaps have not made her feel unsafe in the past.