TIRANA (Reuters) – Police killed one of several gunmen in an exchange of fire on Tuesday after they broke into Albania’s international airport and drove away with a shipment of money, police said.
The masked and armed thieves smashed through an entrance used by the fire services to get access to the cash shipment and fled with the money, triggering a police chase, police said in a statement.
Witnesses on the plane targeted by the thieves, which was headed to Vienna, told reporters the aircraft’s engines were running when three people wearing masks and military fatigues stepped up to the belly of the plane, threatening staff with guns and ordering them on the ground.
“The perpetrators exchanged fire with the police during the chase in a secondary road and one of them lost his life in that exchange,” the police statement said.
Media reports from the scene said the dead man was found with an assault weapon, a grenade and magazines with bullets. Elite police aided by an helicopter were giving chase to at least three of his accomplices still on the loose.
Police confirmed a sum of money had been stolen but did not say how much. Reports initially spoke of a sum of 2 million euros (£1.7 million) being stolen, but later said it might be five times as much.
Albania-based foreign banks ship out hard currency via air through Rinas airport to Vienna, because the central bank does not accept their deposits of hard currency.
The shipments have been attacked recent years, once at the airport and twice on the road leading to the airport. Police retrieved some of the money from the last robbery after finding it stashed underground in pressure cookers.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Frances Kerry)