Durban - The SAPS are closing in on the remaining members of a Pakistani gang who have been kidnapping Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants and holding them for ransom.
In the past month two incidents have been reported where Indians were kidnapped, tortured and held in chains.
Ransom was demanded from the victims’ families in India.
Members of the Pakistani community, many of whom feared giving their names, claimed on Thursday that the gang had been operating since the late 1990s when the first wave of immigrants arrived.
“They used to just walk in to a business and say: ‘Give us R500,’ and we could do nothing,” said a Pakistani businessman. “If they thought your family had money they would kidnap you. But we began standing up to them as more Pakistanis arrived in South Africa and it looks now as if they are going after the Bangladeshis.”
Last week Indian businessman Mosein Patel was found tied to a bed on the South Coast, 22 days after he had been reported missing. Seven suspects were arrested.
On Tuesday Solaiman Rahaman, 41, from Bangladesh, who was kidnapped on July 19, was dumped by his captors near the Sibaya Casino.
Now police are hunting for other gang members.
The gang, which has members in Johannesburg and Cape Town, is also said to operate from Mozambique, where members hide out if things get too hot in South Africa.
According to a police source, the Pakistani mafia controls much of the heroin trade coming into South Africa from Afghanistan, as well as the manufacturing of mandrax and pirating of films.
However the foot soldiers in South Africa specialise in extortion and kidnapping for ransom. According to police crime statistics, there was a 7.7 percent increase in kidnappings countrywide last year. KZN had a 7.8 percent increase.
It is unclear how many of these kidnappings were for ransom, but Dr Rudolph Zinn, a former policeman now at the University of South Africa’s criminology department, said the spike could be attributed to organised crime.
“The perpetrators of these crimes are very clued up with the terrain and rely on the fact that their targets may not know their rights and what legislation is in place to protect them,” he said.
“Sometimes the perpetrators take advantage of the fact that their victims may be in the country illegally or that they brought more money into the country than they were supposed to have.”
Shaheen Suleiman, of Magma Private Investigations, who was instrumental in finding two kidnap victims recently, said that at least three Pakistani gangs were operating in KZN.
He said many cases were not reported to the police.
The gangs operated international bank accounts where the ransom money was deposited.
“They are also known to go into some businesses and demand protection money every week. They watch new immigrants quite closely.”
Police spokesman, Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said they were continuing their investigations and more arrests would follow.
“This gang operates like wild dogs. They pounce on unsuspecting business owners, mainly foreign nationals. It is clear we are faced with a group of organised criminals,” Mdunge said.
Fayyaz Khan, president of the Pakistan Association of South Africa, said they were working closely with the police to end the gang’s reign of terror. “They are not a refection of the Pakistani community but are miscreants who are giving us a bad name.”
Khan said the majority of Pakistanis in South Africa were law-abiding citizens who had made this their home.
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