An FBI SWAT van was stolen from a hotel parking lot, stripped of weapons, ammunition and assault gear and then burned, officials said Tuesday.
The gutted shell of the GMC Suburban was found in a poor industrial neighborhood in north Memphis, minus M-16 and MP-5 rifles, grenade launchers, tear gas equipment, ammunition, helmets and bulletproof vests with the FBI insignia.
The van was stolen overnight from a Budgetel hotel on the eastern edge of Memphis. FBI agents from Little Rock had brought the van and the weapons to town to attend an anti-terrorism training exercise.
No arrests had been made and authorities were searching for the weapons Tuesday, said John W. Hancock, in charge of the FBI’s Memphis office.
The unmarked vehicle was parked outside the motel about 11 p.m. and was not discovered missing for several hours, authorities said.
Hancock said he did not know if the thieves knew that they were stealing an FBI van or that it contained firearms. “I’m sure [the weapons] were not in plain view,” he said.
Hancock would not say how many of each weapon were stolen, except to say it was about a dozen total.
The weeklong training exercise involves more than 500 law enforcement and emergency personnel and is aimed at preparing federal and local agencies to combat domestic terrorism.
FBI spokesman Joe DeBiaggio said authorities had no reason to believe the theft of the van and weapons had anything to do with Monday’s conviction of Timothy J. McVeigh on all 11 counts in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Memphis police say 35 vehicles a day are stolen in the city and GMC models are particularly vulnerable because they are easier to steal.
Special agent Mike Smith said he had no reason to believe the FBI van wasn’t locked.
“I would assume it was. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be,” he said.