Following the recent bomb scares in and around Woolworths stores in Durban, the giant retailer announced that it would be conducting searches on their customers.. Picture: Nabeelah Shaikh

DURBAN - A suspect linked to the incendiary bomb devices found in Durban was taken in for questioning this week.

The man, a foreigner in his 30s, was cuffed and escorted from a Woolworths store in the Durban CBD on Wednesday after he was caught taking photos of products in the store. Police detained him at the Dr Pixley KaSeme (West) Street branch of Woolworths.

He was believed to be working with someone waiting outside who had been sending images of police walking into the store to him via WhatsApp.

The man, who has been previously convicted of theft, was then taken to his apartment in the Durban CBD, which police searched for evidence. Police apparently did not find anything and later released him. His identity is known to the Sunday Tribune.

National Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the man’s detention.

“He was not arrested. He was only taken in for questioning and was later released as he could not be linked,” said Mulaudzi. In the past three weeks a series of incendiary devices have been found in Durban,most of them at Woolworths stores, which had to be evacuated. The most recent Woolworths incident occurred in the Durban CBD last Thursday when an incendiary device was found by a staff member inside the pocket of a garment.

There were also hoax bomb threats at the Pavilion Mall on July 9 and at the Cornubia Mall and Phoenix police station on July 12. A suspicious parcel also thought to have been an incendiary device was found at a Spar in Wentworth on July 9.

“Police are still working on this case,” said Mulaudzi.Woolworths this week heightened its security measures at stores around KZN by enforcing a search on every customer who entered their stores.

“Following the recent security incidents in and around Durban, as well as in three of our stores, we have put in place numerous protection and detection measures to ensure the safety of our people and our customers,” said Woolworths spokesperson Kirsten Hewitt.

“Our customers will see more visible security measures such as additional uniformed guards within all our KZN stores. We have also instituted a new search process for our people and customers’ safety and protection.”

She said Woolworths continued to work closely with the relevant authorities, including the South African Police Service, the Hawks’ Crimes against State unit, local and national government as well as its own investigators.

“Unfortunately we can’t comment further on this investigation, but we continue to work closely with police. We haven’t received any feedback from the authorities with regard to our CCTV footage,” said Hewitt.

Some Woolworths customers took to social media this week saying they were unhappy with the search operations at the stores.

Willem Els, an expert in crime scene handling and bomb disposal at the Institute for Security Studies, said Woolworths was well within its rights to search customers.

“The problem with this measure is that it’s a delicate balancing act that needs to be done,” said Els.

“These measures are put in place to safeguard the public, even though they may seem intrusive. Unfortunately, it has to be done as a protective measure and the public will have to understand that.”

He said experts were still looking at the possibilities linked to the incendiary devices but, as the police were not forthcoming with information, it was difficult to get clarity.

“There are still the four possibilities behind this. Extortion, terrorism, a disgruntled employee or a lone ranger could be behind the incidents, but it is still hard to tell due to insufficient information being provided to us,” said Els.

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