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KwaZulu-Natal - The plot to rob the Carnival City Casino in Johannesburg was allegedly hatched in a prison cell in KwaZulu-Natal by some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.
Members of the disbanded Cato Manor Organised Crime unit claimed on Monday night that informers at Westville Prison had tipped them off two weeks ago that the gang was planning a casino heist in Gauteng.
Their counterparts in Gauteng were told on Thursday that the men were making their way from KZN to their homes in Diepkloof, Soweto and Brakpan, they said. They said they had asked Gauteng cops to place the gang under surveillance the moment they left KZN.
Some men, allegedly part of the gang, had been arrested by the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit for a spate of armed robberies and attempted murder cases in KZN
The case against them collapsed because of tainted evidence and the men were released.
A source in the unit said the suspects had allegedly told inmates that they were planning a casino heist.
“They told inmates the rest of the gang was waiting for them in Gauteng and had vehicles and guns ready for the robbery.”
The gang is notorious for using a 10-pound sledgehammer to smash steel bars, thick glass and safes in cash halls in casinos and banks. That modus operandi was used in the Sibaya Casino robbery in 2010.
The same scenario played out at the Carnival City Casino on Monday morning, when about 20 armed robbers stormed the casino, robbing patrons and looting a safe.
They used a 10-pound hammer to smash steel bars and glass partitions in the cash hall.
The hammer was recovered by police in an abandoned getaway vehicle, at a garage a short distance from the casino.
Several iPads, identity documents, handbags and jewellery that had been stolen from patrons, were recovered from the bakkie.
Two security guards and a reservist police constable who were shot are in a critical condition, according to police spokeswoman, Captain Julia Claassen.
She said investigations were at a critical stage and would not comment on the gang’s alleged movements in KZN.
“A provincial task team is working closely with Brakpan police and other resources to investigate the robbery. Further details cannot be divulged at this stage.”
The police source, who had been profiling the gang since 2010, described it as extremely dangerous. There are between 20 and 25 members. “They are extremely violent and will not hesitate to kill. According to the information we have gathered in the past two years, two policemen have been killed by the gang. They use high-calibre firearms such as R-5 rifles and AK47s.”
The policeman said he was convinced it was the same gang, which comprised mainly foreign nationals, that had hit the Carnival City Casino.
He claimed that when they returned to Gauteng last week, they reunited with other gang members to put the final touches to Monday’s heist.
“This gang is also notorious for bank robberies. In Johannesburg alone they have been linked to more than 20 bank robberies. I have no doubt they will be on a crime spree in weeks to come. Our informers say they are in desperate need of cash to pay legal bills and money for their families.”
He said the fact that a sledgehammer had been used in the robbery confirmed his suspicions that it was the same gang.
“This gang always used a hammer man. He is never armed with a gun. He just wields a 10-pound hammer and will smash anything in his path. The gang’s previous hammer man was shot a few years ago in a shoot-out with police. This is a new recruit.”
He said the main members of the gang, about six of them, did the actual heist.
“The rest of the suspects loiter in the parking lot and corridors. If there are any interruptions, they will shoot to kill. This scenario also played out when the two security guards and cop were shot yesterday.” He said the suspects were all from Gauteng.
“They study casinos and banks. Carnival City Casino was hit previously, probably by the same gang. They knew the floor plan of the casino. It was an easy hit for them.”
He said if surveillance from other casino heists in the country was compared with yesterday’s robbery, he was confident the same gang would be implicated.
“Information is coming in from various informers. These guys are on a mission.
“They are also not afraid to die while committing these crimes. They are fearless.”
He said the gang ran a slick operation with cellular communication and hideouts countrywide.
“When one province gets too hot, they move to the next. This is their life.
“They don’t know any other way to survive.”
Claassen said the men entered the casino through the staff entrance at 12.30am. They used five vehicles – a white BMW, a white Toyota Hilux, a silver Navara, a silver Mercedes-Benz and another that has not been unidentified – and were armed with AK47s and R-5s.
Claassen said police were scrutinising CCTV footage for clues.