TONBRIDGE, England – British police announced two arrests Thursday in connection with the robbery of a cash center in Kent county that netted the armed thieves the equivalent of $87 million.
Police called the arrests of a 29-year old man and 31-year-old woman "significant" and said the two were connected to the robbery.
Adrian Leppard, Assistant Chief Constable of the Kent Police, said the two suspects were arrested Thursday in the London area and were being held on charges of conspiracy to commit robbery.
Speaking at a press conference, Leppard said police were seeking information about a red van that was recovered from a public housing complex and may have been used in the robbery.
The arrests came just 24 hours after what authorities said was Britain's biggest robbery ever.
The heist at Securitas Cash Management Ltd. began when some of the thieves, dressed as police officers, stopped the firm's manager as he drove home Tuesday about 20 miles from the cash depot. The manager got into their car, which he believed to be a police vehicle, and was handcuffed, police said.
At the same time, another team of masked thieves went to the manager's house in the town of Herne Bay and persuaded his wife and his 8-year-old son to go with them, saying the man had had an accident. The manager allegedly was told to cooperate or his family would be hurt.
The group with the manager then went to the depot and tied up the manager and 14 of the depot's employees before loading the cash into a truck, police said. It took the men about an hour to load the cash. The staff managed to escape about an hour later and called police.
"I would doubt very much whoever did it had a terror link," said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defence College. "Normally, they don't go for high-risk ventures with massive amounts of law enforcement focus."
The Tonbridge raid bore similarities to the 2004 heist that netted thieves $46.1 million. Three men — including a bank employee — have been charged.
In both cases, the robbers targeted a bank's cash-distribution center — and used hostages as the key device for breaching security. During both heists, police say, the raiders disguised themselves as police officers to gain the confidence of their victims before seizing them.
International authorities have blamed the outlawed Irish Republican Army for committing the Northern Bank robbery but police on Thursday pointed suspicions instead at a conventional organized-crime gang. Since the early 1970s, the IRA has robbed scores of banks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but has no such track record in Britain.
Police offered a $3.5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the Tonbridge cash — a stack that would weigh about 900 pounds and reach an estimated 35 stories high, according to crime expert Jeffrey Robinson.
Police issued an all-ports alert but said they were still trying to come up with a description of the robbers. Some of the men wore balaclavas and goggles.
Video footage was released of a white van the men used to carry the cash and said several other vehicles used in the heist were still missing. No one was injured in the robbery.
Bank officials had not determined an exact amount that was stolen but said the notes included marked and unmarked bills.
The depot, a single-floored, windowless building, is near the center of Tonbridge, 30 miles southeast of London.
The AP contributed to this report.