Police are searching for three armed intruders who fled from the Spanish consulate in the Swiss capital, Bern.This content was published on February 7, 2005 - 19:50
An elite unit stormed the empty building early on Monday afternoon but the attackers had long since fled the scene. The incident had begun shortly before 8am.
Consulate staff were unharmed but a security guard was injured and taken to hospital. Early reports spoke of hostage-taking at the consulate, which is located in Bern’s diplomatic quarter.
At a news conference after the intervention, police said it was unclear exactly what had happened.
But they believe that the partially-masked intruders are more likely to have had a criminal motive than a political one.
The head of the police operation, Peter Theilkäs, said the three intruders had left the building about 8am - before police had had time to deploy officers and fully cordon off the area.
Thielkäs said that the motive was not clear. It was open whether it had been a break-in or “a classic hostage-taking that did not take place”.
The police assault came after the intruders, who carried knives and a firearm, gave no response to an ulitimatum to give themselves up. By that time, they had long escaped.
Security forces, including army soldiers, were deployed around the consulate, and several buildings in the area were evacuated.
Police were alerted to the incident when a routine patrol found an injured man near the consulate.
He informed police about a hostage-taking inside the building, which sounded the alarm.
The security guard had managed to escape from the building shortly after the intruders entered the consulate.
A communiqué said that when the police deployed their forces, they still believed the intruders were in the building.
It said that the attackers had asked two employees to open the consulate’s safe before locking them in a room.
The intruders probably left the building shortly before the arrival of the police, it added.
After two and a half hours, the two staff members managed to alert police to their plight and left the building by a back entrance at about 10.30am.
Theilkäs said that the condition of the security guard was “fairly” serious.
The intruders left empty-handed. “They left with nothing,” said Theilkäs.
According to consulate staff quoted on French-language Swiss radio, the attackers were after passports or stamps for visas worth between SFr4,000 and SFr6,000 ($3,266-$4,899) each on the black market.
They added that several breaking and entering attempts had been made before at the consulate.
Earlier in the day, the Spanish foreign ministry had confirmed that two consulate staff members had been taken hostage but were unharmed.
"Apparently, judging from the information we have received, from the outset the three assailants wanted to get at the safe," ministry spokesman Angel Vazquez told Spanish national radio.
"This makes one think their goal was money, but this is just speculation. It will take some time for us to establish with certainty the exact nature of this act."
swissinfo with agencies
The incident was the first time in six years that a special task force trained to deal with hostage and blackmail situations was mobilised.
To enter the consulate, Bernese police had to ask for permission from the Spanish government.
According to the Vienna Convention (signed in 1961 and in force in Switzerland since 1964), foreign diplomatic missions are considered inviolable territory.
Earlier incidents at diplomatic missions:
February 16, 1999: Kurdish militants occupied Greek representative offices in Zurich and Muri near Bern, as well as the headquarters of Geneva's Social Democratic Party, taking several hostages.
December 14, 1988: Six unarmed Iranian opponents took four hostages at Iran's consulate in Geneva.
July 12, 1988: Kurds occupying Germany's honorary consulate in Basel took two persons hostage.
September 6, 1982: An armed commando occupied the Polish embassy in Bern, taking 13 people hostage.
February 14, 1955: Six Romanian communist opponents occupied their country's embassy in Bern, after killing the caretaker.
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