Cape Town - 140616 - Pictured is Elite Cash & Carry in Reen Road, Athlone.There have been a spate of business robberies recently. Some of the acts are believed to be related (same criminals). Reporter: Natasha Prince Picture: David Ritchie (083 652 4951)

Cape Town - Businesses in Athlone say they are under siege from an armed gang they believe is part of a syndicate targeting them.

Elite Wholesalers was held up by a gang about 11am on Monday in the third such attack in Athlone in recent weeks.

A packer was shot in the stomach

The man, who is in hospital, is deaf and apparently did not understand what the robbers wanted him to do when they demanded that he “get down”.

The robbers left empty-handed.

Provincial police spokesman Captain FC van Wyk said it had been reported that four gunmen entered the store and shot one of the workers before fleeing in a white Toyota Corolla.

Police are investigating a case of attempted murder.

Asked to comment on owners’ fears that they were being targeted by a syndicate, Van Wyk said that anyone with information about a possible syndicate operating in the area should contact the police.

Iqbal Parker, speaking on behalf of Elite Wholesalers, said the packer was recovering in hospital.

At 2pm on Monday, he was reported to be stable.

“He struggled to understand what they were communicating and when the robbers said, ‘Get on the floor’, he reacted differently and attacked the guy (the armed robber) and then the shot went off,” Parker said.

A cashier said that the men had come from the back of the store.

She jumped over her counter and crouched on the floor when she saw they had guns.

She looked up and saw a gun was being pointed at the deaf packer.

“I don’t think he understood what they were telling him,” she said.

Parker said the robbers had difficulty opening the cash registers because these could be accessed only with special security codes.

“They didn’t get anything and, when the gunshot went off, our own security, who were wearing plain clothes, came in and they saw the security and ran out.”

The robbers ran into trouble when they tried to escape.

A customer who had parked at the gate closest to the entrance, his wife and their year-old grandchild were in their green Daewoo, being assisted by a car guard who had been packing in their groceries.

The robbers approached the car and took the keys from the driver, who then ran for safety with his family.

When the Daewoo would not start, the gang jumped into a white Toyota Corolla – in which two other men were waiting and which was apparently their getaway vehicle – and fled.

In other robberies in Athlone recently, business owners reported a similar modus operandi – four gunmen entering the store, brandishing weapons, and demanding that cashiers empty the cash registers.

A fifth man waits in the getaway vehicle – which is a white Toyota Corolla, or a white Mercedes-Benz with a hub cap missing from the left front wheel.

A week ago, MA Power Trade Cash and Carry was hit.

Witnesses reported seeing four men enter the store, while a fifth waited in a white Mercedes parked outside. Posing as customers, they went straight to the cashiers.

A store manager said the gunmen pointed firearms at the cashiers and demanded that they drop the registers’ cash in a bag.

The store has since beefed up its security.

“This criminality is making us miserable and it’s only a handful of people turning an entire community upside down,” the manager said.

He said business owners needed to find a way to unite and to come up with solutions.

“It’s like we’re trading in fear every day,” he said.

At the Delight Food Emporium in Athlone four weeks ago, Saleem Sonday found himself at the mercy of four robbers who made off with money from the cash registers and fled with a fifth man in a white Toyota.

Sonday and his staff were forced to get behind the counters and to fill bags with the day’s takings.

Surveillance footage was handed to the police.

Sonday said that, last week, he saw four men in a white Mercedes-Benz and instinctively pushed the panic buttons. When private security responded, the Mercedes sped from the scene.

“All they want is the money. It seems that they are targeting selected stores.”

On June 7, Salma Shreef, 65, was shot dead by robbers who ambushed her as she pulled into her garage on arriving home from the business of her husband, Ebrahim Shreef, Jimmy’s Motor Spares on Klipfontein Road. The robbers made off with her bag.

The business had been robbed in March.

Pizza Time, a popular takeaway outlet in Rylands, was targeted in December. The owners have since been shutting the entrance earlier and serving customers through a gate.

No arrests have been made.

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Cape Argus