Brussels Diplomats Carjacked
Jan. 28, 1998
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Carjacking gangs have found prime targets in the placid, leafy avenues of Brussels _ the gleaming Mercedes and BMWs of well-wheeled diplomats in this self-proclaimed ``capital of Europe.''
In the past five months, hijackers have snatched more than 200 vehicles in and around Brussels _ 75 percent of them Mercedes and BMWs, said Jos Colpin, spokesman for the Brussels' state prosecutor's office.
``It's well-organized gangs who know where they can sell these luxury cars,'' he said.
The luxury cars of dignitaries of the European Union and NATO _ both based here _ are preferred targets.
Recent victims include Herman von Richtofen, Germany's ambassador to NATO; EU Social Affairs Commissioner Padraig Flynn; and Chawki Armali, the Palestinian envoy to the EU, who was bundled out of his BMW by two men wielding baseball bats.
Local business leaders and politicians have also been held up.
Typically, gunmen force drivers from their cars as they stop for gas or a red light or when they park their vehicles. In some cases, assailants have burst into homes of car owners and demanded keys at gunpoint.
Investigators say the cars are shipped to the Middle East, North Africa or the former Soviet Union.
On Jan. 14, 30 luxury cars stolen in Belgium were discovered in the French port of Le Havre, ready for shipment to Lebanon.
A special anti-carjacking police unit has been created. But given the absence of border checks between EU nations, a car can be in France or the Netherlands in 30 minutes.
After a Japanese diplomat was relieved of his Mercedes by a gun-toting woman this month, the word went out to potential victims not to resist.
``If someone walks up to you at a traffic light and points a gun, get out and hand over the keys,'' said British Embassy spokesman Mark Bensberg. ``It's tough to lose a car, but it's better than ending up dead.''