A military armory at Tancos Air Base, about 60 miles North of Lisbon, Portugal had a break-in on Wednesday in what local defense officials are referring to as a “very professional” job and a “serious” breach of security.

Although the Portuguese military has been clear that they do not intend to release the details of the incident until the investigation has concluded, they have provided an overview of the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Sometime on Wednesday, individuals were able to gain access to Tancos Air Base by cutting a hole in the base’s perimeter fence.  They went on to gain access to one of Portugal’s armories within the installation and steal a large number of various sorts of grenades and other explosives, as well as nearly 1,500 rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition.

The armory had no operational electric security or surveillance equipment, and was guarded by military police patrols.  Reports indicate that there are closed-circuit cameras at the site, but they have been broken for over two years.

According to Spanish media reports which claimed to receive the list from their own anti-terror units, the following explosives and ammunition were among the stolen military hardware and equipment:

  • 1,450 9mm ammunition cartridges
  • 150 hand grenades
  • 44 anti-tank grenades
  • 18 tear gas grenades
  • 102 explosive charges
  • 264 pieces of plastic explosive

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called on his nation’s military to conduct a “no holds-barred” investigation into the theft of these weapons, before adding that any potential links to arms thefts in other NATO states should be looked at as a part of the investigatory process.

He went on to call on military leaders to take action immediately in order to prevent any further thefts from occurring.

Forest fires claimed the lives of 64 people in Portugal last month, prompting center-right opposition party leader, Assunção Cristas, to accuse the Portuguese military of a “crisis of authority and a crisis of leadership.”  She called for the firing of the Portuguese Defense Minister in the aftermath of the crisis.

An internal investigation was launched, which has seen the suspension of five high-ranking military leaders thus far.  There is no evidence to suggest these two investigations are related, but the circumstances leading up to that investigation seem to speak directly to an issue with command leadership within Portugal’s military.  Those issues, it would seem, may be highlighted in the lax security present around one of the nation’s military armories.

Media reports do, however, indicate that the suspended military officials were thought to be responsible for the units charged with securing and monitoring the weapons storage warehouse.  The commander of an engineering regiment located at Tancos Air Base was among the suspended officials.

NATO officials acknowledged that they were aware of the incident, but emphasized that the alliance has no involvement in the military facility, nor in the ongoing investigation into the raid.

“This is a matter for the Portuguese authorities and we count on them to investigate what happened,” an official told the BBC.

The Portuguese military says a meeting of all top military officials is underway on Monday in order to discuss the elements of the case and determine how best to move forward with the investigation.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps