Real Heist Stories: The British Bank of the Middle East Robbery

Most Successful Robbery or Biggest Fail?

Usually, we don’t tend to associate associations and organizations when it comes to robberies. Not because they don’t handle this type of crime but rather because they are busy handling some acts of terrorism and worst criminal activities most of the time. 

However, there are always exceptions, and you can expect the British Bank of the Middle East Robbery to be one of them. 

This burglary is known for being one of the most infamous around the world due to how it took place, the people involved, and how much money was stolen in gold. 

Therefore, it has turned out to be one of those heist stories you have to add to your book and search about to avoid being left out of the culture in certain situations. 

This is why we decided to give it its proper space in our heist section, and we will be more than happy to go through the journey of understanding how it occurred and what the aftermath is even to this date. 

Back to 1976: A Complicated Story

This is going to be a wild, complicated, but also confusing ride since many factors are involved in this robbery. 

On January 20, 1976, a group of thieves robbed the local branch of the British Bank of the Middle East on rue des Banques. This was near the Place de l’Etoile—the seat of Parliament—and not far from the Grand Seraglio—Headquarters of the Prime Minster’s offices in the Bab Idriss District and now HSBC Bank Middle East. 

During this time, a civil war was taking place, and despite the situation and how affected the country was, the bank street was not affected by the events until this moment. 

The story behind this controversy continues to be a concern for many due to the consequences at the moment of the burglary and to this date, over 40 years later. 

On the previous date, a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization broke into the British Bank of the Middle East, Beirut. 

The robbers used brute power to break through the bank’s wall with a Catholic Church instead of being quiet and keeping the action as simple as possible. 

The group allegedly used a number of Corsican locksmiths to crack the bank’s vault, stealing gold bars, Lebanese foreign currency, stocks, jewels, and other valuables, and in case you were wondering, the loot today is worth three times more than it was in 1976.

However, this robbery is quite confusing despite the previous details given. The main reason lies in the fact that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) was the one behind the entire process.

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Now, the truth is that other parties are also believed to have taken a role in the crime. The Russian Mafia, Mossad, and even the IRA were suspected of it.

Some information supports the involvement of the PLO and how it had dealt with the robbery. However, other sources support different theories. 

British SAS Involvement – Most Believable Theory

Based on the evidence provided by SAS contacts, Damien Lewis has discovered that the SAS troopers may have done it instead.

A nine-man SAS troop was assigned the mission of infiltrating Beirut to gain access to the vault of the British Bank of the Middle East at the time of the war. 

For what reason? Because this would allow Her Majesty’s government to seize documents of valuable value.

The financial holdings of terrorist groups worldwide, including the PLO, PFLP, and Islamic Jihad, were detailed in these documents, which were of great interest to several parties. 

The members of the troop were dropped off by submarine and moved quickly to the Green Line. From there, they headed for the city’s Financial District while trying to avoid detection.

They watched the bank for two days. One member of the team opened a BBME account to get detailed information about the interior. 

After gaining a complete picture of the bank’s operations, the SAS commander prepared his assault plan.

His men used 60mm mortars against the front lines of each side to start a huge firefight. The SAS team would then launch a surprise attack on the bank lobby, capturing control of the bank to blow the vault.

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The raid was over four hours long when the charge was detonated, and it definitely worked flawlessly.

According to the source, the original plan was to take a small amount to cover the theft of the documents, but with comms issues, orders became confused. Instead of simply taking the documents, the soldiers emptied the vault of most of its contents.

Most of the money was made up of gold bullion and hundreds of 12.5kg London Good Delivery Bars. Then, the loot was loaded in vans and drove across the Green Line to be transferred to a waiting landing craft to Cyprus.

The terrorist documents were delivered by the team, along with a substantial amount of the gold.

Rumors persist that some of the gold was not handed over, but in the chaos of Beirut, the money would have been stolen by opportunist thefts anyway. 

Capture & Consequences: The Results

Unlike what many believe, this robbery hasn’t been solved during all this time. Though, we are sure this is something you already guessed. 

Due to all the theories and sources of information and the lack of proof and details that could take authorities to a lead, the case went cold pretty fast despite the continuous search. 

Those who believe that the British SAS troop were the ones involved expect them not to be punished regardless of the $20 to $50 million stolen worth of gold bars. To this date, this loot is valued to be three times or more it was worth back in the 70s to the point of being estimated at $210 million. 

Where does this leave us? With a mystery and unsolved case.

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People have, somehow, given up on the idea of solving it due to the organizations and groups involved. After all, it is clear that the government and terrorism are trying to hide the details to avoid any issues since this occurred. 

What we are more interested in knowing, for now, is the popular opinion and what theory do they believe. 

Some see the hand of Mossad, while others see the British SAS as the source of the documents that were considered compromising during this robbery. 

These documents could have been in the coffers or even in the hands of a group. Faction 17 is linked to Yasser Alafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, for example. 

When we go back to the SAS men, people think (and we do share this theory) they had enough motive with the documents involved, the means, and the skills to handle such robbery without leaving any tracks and proof behind. If they did, additional action and connection could have handled the aftermath. 

This theory is strongly supported by the fact that the Ministry of Defense has declined to comment on the heist several times over the last few decades. 

No one thinks the loot will ever be found, and many consider that, after all these years, most of the gold bars and some valuable items like jewelry must have been sold to Switzerland, local markets, and the black one.

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See what we said? This is a mystery since the people involved, the exact amount of money (since the $20 to $50 million is only an estimate), and where and what the money was used for remain unknown for everyone, which just tells you that the story hasn’t ended.

British Bank of the Middle East Heist: 4 Facts

  • Despite all the suspects, no one has been charged for the crime during all these years.
  • It is considered one of the very few perfect heists in history. 
  • The civil war taking place in Lebanon obstructed the authorities’ investigation despite the street where the bank was located being almost intact. 
  • Some say the men involved were nine, while others consider they were eight.

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Written by Dame Cash

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