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“I can’t imagine that we get these kinds of stories from the Netherlands. But I’m afraid we are not very well organised,” says our crime journalist Joris Van der Aa To the point after the brutal robbery in the port of Antwerp on Friday evening. A few weeks ago, an armed commando was also trapped on the way to a customs warehouse.
“A lot is being seized from a Dutch organization that is known for being very violent,” Van der Aa adds. “This causes a shortage of cocaine in the Netherlands. If they can find people who are willing to forcibly steal coke at customs, they will try that.”
Customs officers, in turn, feel abandoned and are calling for more and more modern means to combat these gangs. They are also assisted in this by Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever.
“The way customs is handled is waiting for people to die,” he says To the point. “I think I predicted at the federal level what would happen and asked for measures to be taken in time. I have already taken measures at a local level, where I decide. Our police are equipped with units that have special armaments and the most modern armored vehicles. Because we know that we live in times where we may be confronted with terrorists in our city and because we know that organized crime will stop at nothing.”
“We learned that from the Netherlands, where you always see: what is going on in our country actually happened there years ago,” he continues. “And as the drug business has shifted to Antwerp, you know that these phenomena will follow. That was all perfectly predictable and we dealt with it very naively.”
“Compared to the weapons they may face, our customs officers walk around with stuffers. These are weapons of war that drug criminals appear with, and that cannot be a surprise because they have been using them in the Netherlands for many years,” says De Wever. “We have known this in Antwerp for many years and we have adapted to it. You just have to beg the federal services and sound the alarm for years.”
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Although De Wever admits that the federal level has started. “Customs has been strengthened somewhat, the public prosecutor’s office has been strengthened and the port corps is coming, I hope. But that is far from the answer we need. These are mouse steps that we are taking now.”
“We have to say things as they are. The security of the Doel nuclear power plant – these are DAB employees, security agents of the federal government – has been transferred to the port. Ironically, they have been replaced in Doel by soldiers,” De Wever criticizes. “What I have been asking for the port for a long time.”
“Because the DAB, they are not special units. It is nice that we have security officers who are visibly present and keep an eye on things, but we need at least 350. They are not there yet for a long time. That will take many years. And they will not provide the answer to the heavily armed commandos of organized crime. You need special units for this that are permanently present on the site, like we have with the local police. It is those units that were able to save the lives of the customs officers a few weeks ago.”
De Wever calls the failure to deploy soldiers to guard the port political unwillingness. “For years, soldiers have worked with the police in Antwerp to protect the Jewish community, under the command of the police. A soldier cannot take on a police role, but he can mean a lot in the field. This is done as standard in France and Southern Europe.”
“Soldiers can guard the nuclear power plant, but not the port? Sorry, but that’s nonsense. People don’t want this,” says De Wever. “And that is irresponsible. I can imagine that it takes years to recruit those people and draw up budgets to roll out those units, but all those years of telling the customs officers ‘take your plan’ and hoping that it works out? I would not want to bear any political responsibility for that.”
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