Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Thatcher & Simon Mann's African Coup

African Coup

Captain Neil Steyl, pilot
Captain Neil Steyl, pilot

On a steamy Sunday evening in March 2004, a chartered Boeing 727 touched down with a puff of blue smoke at the airport in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, Africa.

Capt. Neil Steyl taxied the jet to a section of the airport reserved for military aircraft. The plane was to be met there by Simon Mann, a British citizen and resident of Cape Town, South Africa, who had arranged the purchase of cargo that would be loaded into the 727's hold. The flight plan called for the jet to then refuel and continue on to an undisclosed final destination.

It never got out of Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean authorities stormed the plane and arrested the pilot, co-pilot and 64 men seated in the passenger cabin, where authorities also found $130,000 in cash. Simon Mann and two others on the ground were arrested, as well.

Zimbabwe located on map of Africa
Zimbabwe located on map of Africa

They were charged with attempting to buy weapons from the state-run Zimbabwe Defense Industries. Their arms requisition included 20 machine guns, 61 assault rifles, 150 hand grenades, ten rocket-propelled grenade launchers (and 100 RPG shells), and 75,000 rounds of ammunition.

Mann's stammering explanation was that the plane was en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he and the men had been hired to guard diamond mines. The Zimbabwean officials didn't buy it.

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