Yusuf Omar

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Shoppers at Randridge Mall in Joburg stared in horror as cleaners mopped pools of blood off the white tiles outside NWJ Jewellers on Saturday.

The 56-year-old jewellery store owner, her one-year-old grandson and a bystander, 47, had been shot and rushed to local hospitals.

Less than 4km away, diamond rings, gold chains and silver earrings spilt out onto the tarmac.

This was the fourth jewellery store to be robbed in Gauteng this month.

The eight men who took part in the robbery left the store at 10.30am and as they fled towards Fairland, chased by police, they crashed their double-cab bakkie into a car at an intersection.

On foot, they found refuge at a nursery in Northcliff.

Hentus Lemmea, driver of the car, said: “When I got out, I thought it was an accident. Then the men started shooting, so we took cover behind the car.”

The deputy police commissioner of Gauteng, Major-General Phumza Gela said they had radioed back-up support from the Flying Squad for eyes in the sky and the K9 unit to sniff out the suspects.

In the nursery shop, “we found them in the ceiling, in the geyser, everywhere”, said Gela.

Four of the eight suspects were arrested and two handguns seized.

Three black, Big Five animal print carrier bags were found containing the stolen jewellery.

A police officer was wounded during the operation and is recovering in hospital.

A detective examining burnt-out shells at the site of the shootout noted that they were not 9mm handgun rounds. “This is the work of an AK-47,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gela said they were still pursuing the four suspects who got away.

He was reluctant to call the recent spate of robberies the work of a syndicate, although admitted: “Jewellery stores are being targeted these days.”

On June 6, jewellery worth R2 million was taken by gun-toting thugs during a robbery at the GoldHeart Jewellers store at the Signet Terrace shopping centre in Lenasia.

On the same day, two men were injured in a shooting when an armed gang held up another NWJ jewellery store at The Boulders shopping centre in Midrand.

Gela said: “Since the recent robberies of jewellery stories, we have put measures in place which enabled us to respond so quickly in this instance.

“We have sensitised all sector vehicles to look out for activity near jewellery stores.”

Illana Bidgood, a hairdresser in the salon next to the jewellery store in Randridge Mall, said none of the robbers had covered their faces.

“They dressed well – leather jackets, buttoned shirts, designer jeans and formal shoes.”

The men began shooting as they left.

“This is the third time NWJ have been robbed.”

Bidgood said she had met the men who robbed the store before.

“Last Thursday they kept coming into the salon and asking where the back doors were and knocking on the walls.”

Four suspects were due to appear in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court today charged with armed robbery and four counts of attempted murder.

Late yesterday, SAPS spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said they had not located the other four suspects.

As to the possibility of a syndicate of jewellery thieves, he said: “At this stage we don’t know whether it’s one group (or not), but the suspects arrested will be profiled to see if they are linked to other crimes.”