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CRIME

Trial opens in spectacular Dresden museum jewel heist

German prosecutors on Friday accused six young members of a notorious criminal family of carrying out a "purposefully prepared" heist on a state museum in Dresden, as a trial opened over the spectacular robbery of priceless 18th-century jewels.

A view of the Residenzschloss in Dresden.
A view of the Residenzschloss in Dresden where the jewell heist took place inside the museum on November 25th 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The suspects, aged 22 to 28, are accused of gang robbery and arson after the brazen night raid on the Green Vault museum in Dresden’s Royal Palace on November 25th, 2019.

To this day, there is still no trace of the jewels, including a sword with a diamond-encrusted hilt and a shoulderpiece which contains the famous 49-carat Dresden white diamond.

Reading the indictment in court, prosecutor Christian Weber said the suspects had stolen “unique and irreplaceable treasures… of outstanding cultural and historical significance”.

One of the suspects covered his face with a grey hooded sweater, while others hid behind files and folders.

While charging the men last year, prosecutors described the museum pieces as “extremely important in terms of art and cultural history”.

The robbers took just eight minutes, cutting the power and breaking in through a window with which they had previously tampered.

Two men armed with an axe then stormed into the showroom and stole the jewels before fleeing in a car, which they torched in an underground car park.

The thieves grabbed 21 pieces of jewellery and other valuables from the collection of the Saxon ruler August the Strong, encrusted with more than 4,300 individual diamonds.

Operation Epaulette

Insurance experts say the loot is worth at least €113.8 million ($128 million), with German media dubbing it the biggest art heist in modern history.

However, the director of Dresden’s state art collection, Marion Ackermann, had refused to put a value on the stolen items, calling them “priceless”.

The stunt also caused around a million euros’ worth of damage to the museum and car park.

The robbed display case in the Jewel Room of the Historic Green Vault in the Residence Palace in Dresden.

The robbed display case in the Jewel Room of the Historic Green Vault in the Residence Palace in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Oliver Killig

Police combed through CCTV footage to identify the suspects, who are all members of the so-called “Remmo clan”, an extended family notorious for ties to organised crime in Germany.

The investigation was codenamed “Epaulette” after the glittering shoulderpiece.

Three of the suspects were arrested after 1,600 police raided 18 Berlin properties in November 2020.

Another two – twin brothers named by police as Mohammed and Abdul Majed Remmo – were on the run for several months, but were caught in December 2020 and May 2021 respectively.

A final suspect was arrested last summer.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about the Dresden museum heist

Gold coin

The Remmos were previously implicated in another stunning museum robbery in the heart of Berlin in 2017, when a 100-kilogramme (220-pound) gold coin was stolen.

Two of the suspects on trial for the Dresden heist are still serving out juvenile sentences for involvement in the theft of the gold coin – which has also never been found.

The “Big Maple Leaf”, considered the world’s second-largest gold coin after the one-tonne Australian Kangaroo, was snatched from Berlin’s prestigious Bode Museum.

Investigators in 2020 targeted the Remmo family with the seizure of 77 properties worth a total of 9.3 million euros, charging that they were purchased with the proceeds of various crimes, including a 2014 bank robbery.

The Dresden trial, which is expected to run until October, is being heard in a juvenile court because two of the suspects were minors at the time of the crime.

In addition to the six main suspects, four other men are being investigated on suspicion of aiding and abetting by scoping out the crime scene the previous day.

Founded by Augustus, Elector of Saxony, in 1723, the Green Vault is one of Europe’s oldest museums.

After the Royal Palace suffered severe damage in World War Two, the museum remained closed for decades before it was restored and reopened in 2006.

Experts have warned that the chances of recovering the stolen jewels are slim, with the precious stones likely re-cut in the time that has lapsed since the crime.

By Femke COLBORNE

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CRIME

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.

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