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Durban - A gang of criminals, armed with high-calibre weapons, has been on a crime spree in KwaZulu-Natal, hijacking vehicles and robbing businesses.
The 10 bandits, known as the Polo Gang, have been linked to more than 10 hijackings and robberies in the Phoenix, Durban North and uMhlanga areas in the past two weeks.
This week, provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, put together a task team to catch the gang, a source said.
The gang is also suspected of committing robberies in Durban Central, Newlands East, Montclair, Greenwood Park, Mayville and Sydenham.
But the robbers could only watch in dismay on Monday when a quarter of a million rand in cash, one of them had taken from a cash-in-transit guard at a Phoenix mall, went up in smoke.
“The [CCTV] footage shows orange smoke coming out of the cash box as the suspect runs out,” a police source who viewed the footage said. The dye-stained notes, amounting to R250 000, were now worthless, the source said.
The gang struck on Monday at the Phoenix Plaza mall, targeting a G4S cash van collecting money from Shopright Checkers.
The suspects, who were all wearing hats and have been described as in their 40s and well built, brandished AK-47s.
The source said two suspects entered the mall at around 8.45am.
As a security guard exited Checkers with the cash box, he was confronted by a suspect. The suspect took his gun and the cash.
The source said the guard managed to activate the dye in the cash box.
A silver/grey Nissan bakkie, parked outside the mall, appeared to have been their getaway vehicle.
But the suspects have also been caught on CCTV cameras travelling in a silver VW Polo hatchback with tinted windows.
According to a private investigator, who did not want to be named, the Polo had been stolen in a hijacking in Phoenix, at the end of August.
A Phoenix security company boss had been returning from the bank with staff salaries, when he was robbed.
But the gang of about 10 suspects are also said to be using a light blue Honda Civic, as well as the bakkie, which is fitted with a white canopy.
Witnesses told police the suspects drove towards KwaMashu after Monday’s robbery.
The private investigator said indications were that the gang planned its operations from hideouts in informal settlements in KwaMashu and Inanda.
Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed six cases of business robberies had been reported in some areas.
But he could not confirm if the same Polo had been used in the robberies, or if the same gang was responsible.
“VW Polos are very common vehicles and it might be possible that more than one of these makes or models are being used by criminals in the Durban area,” Zwane said.
Alert South Africa issued a national broadcast on Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger, warning people not to confront or try to stop the Polo Gang.
The alert read: “Suspects are extremely dangerous. They will not hesitate to shoot [at the] public or police officers who try to stop them.
“Suspects are heavily armed with assault rifles, AK-47s, 9mm pistols and 38 revolvers.”
Stills from CCTV footage of a recent armed robbery at a butchery in Durban have also been posted on the site.
The alerts appealed to anyone with information to contact metro police at 031 361 0000 or Crime Stop at 08600 10111.
Police officers were also cautioned not to take on the suspects without back-up.
Alert South Africa was launched in February this year and its objective is to assist the police, traffic department, community police forums and medical emergency services with crime updates.
The gang is also believed to be responsible for a robbery in Sunningdale on Sunday morning and a business robbery in the Durban CBD on Friday.
At 7.30am on Sunday, 10 heavily armed suspects held up the Sunningdale Mini Spar.
The suspects, who were in a Nissan bakkie, opened fire on a Blue Security patrol vehicle, injuring a security guard.
Blue Security reaction manager, Brian Jackson, said more than 30 spent cartridges had been found at the scene – four of which had struck their patrol vehicle.
On Friday, a pharmacy in Ismail C Meer (Lorne) Street was robbed.
According to Alert South Africa, five suspects – including two dressed in police uniform and one in a correctional services uniform – held staff at gunpoint.
They fled with an undisclosed amount of cash.
No suspects have been arrested.