Armed gang targets busy supermarket

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DAILY NEWS

A bullet hole in the Lotto machine at Top of the Rock supermarket in Effingham Road. The shop was robbed on Saturday night. Picture: Puri Devjee

Durban - Terrified customers at a Durban supermarket were made to hand over their cash and cellphones by up to a dozen armed robbers who stormed in while they were doing their shopping on Saturday night.

The gang of robbers fired about 30 shots at the building and customers’ cars as they fled a few minutes later. No one was injured.

Pravesh Ramfol, owner of Top of the Rock supermarket in Effingham Road, said the robbery had taken about seven minutes but they were the longest minutes of his life.

“We had quite a few customers in the shop at the time. I saw one man walk in with a gun. He came up to my side and asked for cash,” he said.

Ramfol said three robbers inside the shop were armed, while another four to six men remained outside. The customers were made to lie down on the floor while they were robbed of cellphones and cash.

“Some of them (robbers) went for the cash at the tills, while the others controlled the customers,” he said.

Ramfol said he was approached by three men separately, all asking for money. He said it seemed there was no communication between the robbers as to who would take what.

“The third guy kept saying, ‘I’m going to shoot you’ because I said there was no more money. He then went and took packets of cigarettes,” he said. “They also asked for airtime but we don’t keep any cards, it’s all virtual.”

He recalled one of the suspects asking for “the tower”. When he queried this, the man indicated the camera. However, before Ramfol could respond, the robbers had fled.

“The next minute we heard bullets flying. The police found about 30 spent cartridges but nobody was injured,” he said.

“Two of my customers’ cars had bullet holes in them and they also shot at the shop.”

While the robbery was under way, a staff member hit the panic button alerting Marshall Security which arrived moments after the robbery.

Tyron Powell, managing director of Marshall Security, said that while the robbery was taking place inside, customers outside the shop were also being robbed.

“The number of suspects is still to be determined but it seems there were between eight and 12, armed with handguns and rifles, who arrived in three or four cars,” he said.

Usually, in these types of armed robbery, robbers stayed outside to cordon off the area in case police or security guards arrived, he said.

“They probably fired shots as they were leaving to scare people so they didn’t get up immediately or follow them.”

Powell said there were similarities to an armed robbery at Brookdale Service Station in Phoenix on Friday night when armed men robbed the store and customers of cash, cellphones and airtime.

Prem Balram, owner of Reaction Unit SA, said one of his officers was at the Phoenix convenience store at the time of the robbery.

“At about 8.30pm on Friday a reaction officer in a marked vehicle drove to the petrol station and went into the store to buy something.

“As he lifted his head he saw six armed men arrive, so he ran to the side entrance and grabbed his radio for back-up.”

As he grabbed his radio, two men started shooting at him and he returned fire with his 9mm pistol, letting off four rounds. He then ran across the road.

While this was happening, two men went inside the store and took cash and airtime. Patrons were also robbed of cellphones and cash.

Another two men robbed customers outside the store. Balram said one customer, filling up with petrol, was assaulted but there were no other injuries.

He said, viewing CCTV footage later, there were actually eight men in total.

Two men are seen going up to the marked vehicle, opening the door and checking for a reaction officer.

The suspects fled in the cars they arrived in – a VW Golf 5 and a Toyota Yaris.

They also took a Toyota Corolla hijacked from a patron at the petrol station.

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