Escaping bandits spray streets with gun fire
-five bystanders injured
September 23, 1999
In what was probably the most terrifying and daring robbery Guyana has seen, four heavily armed bandits grabbed millions of dollars from an America Street cambio yesterday morning, covering their escape with a deadly hail of bullets which injured five persons including a policeman.
The bandits, masked and wearing bulletproof vests, robbed D. Singh and Sons Cambio on America Street of around $22.265 million in local currency and an as yet undetermined amount of foreign currency.
One of the bandits, Terry Madhoo aka 'Rusty' was killed in a subsequent shoot out with the police.
Well known policeman, Ewart Hutson called 'Toots', Mubarack Khan of Meten-Meer-Zorg, Brian Nelson of Crane Housing Scheme, Vishnu Narine of Herstelling and Jermaine Brower, all suffered wounds when the bandits sprayed bullets along the busy downtown street. Nelson alias 'Tussie' was up to last night fighting for his life at the Georgetown Hospital. Up to press time, Hutson was reported to be in a stable condition at a private city hospital after undergoing surgery.
According to reports reaching Stabroek News, the gunmen made their escape in a white Toyota vehicle, licence plate number PFF 7962. It is unclear whether they arrived in the vehicle but a source reported that the men had turned up on foot and the vehicle joined them shortly after the shooting began. According to one eyewitness, the men arrived at the cambio at around 0945 hrs. Two of them stood guard while the other two entered the building asking for 'Blackie', which Stabroek News understands is the nickname of Hermeshwar Singh, the manager of D. Singh and Sons Cambio.
Dominoes game turns bloody
The two bandits who stayed outside produced what eyewitnesses described as submachine guns and began spraying indiscriminately in the general vicinity. They turned their attention to the off-duty Hutson who was involved in a game of dominoes outside the nearby Sadia Import and Export.
According to one shaken eyewitness, a bandit stepped close until he was about five feet away from where Hutson and three other men were playing and opened fire. Hutson was hit on the right hand, shoulder and leg but was still able to stagger to a nearby drain. Reportedly a renowned marksman, Hutson pulled out his gun but according to one eyewitness, the weapon fell out of his hand. One of the bullets had severed one of the policeman's fingers.
Another man who was in the area said he saw Hutson "leaking like a strainer" from chest wounds. Hutson staggered over to a nearby vehicle just in front of Jag's Sales and Investments Ltd, but another bandit was said to have come behind him and sprayed another fusillade of bullets in his direction before his gun jammed.
The wounded man eventually sought refuge in Jag's, leaving a trail of blood across a car parked in front of the store as well as on Jag's' store window.
One of the men who was playing dominoes said he had just left to go and buy milk when the shooting started. Bullet holes were seen in the walls behind the seat he would have been in if the bandits had arrived a couple of minutes earlier.
'Whey de money?'
Meanwhile, the bandits inside the cambio were asking: "Whey de money? Whey de money?"
Stabroek News understands that the cambio section is usually run by a man identified only as 'Latcho'. However, 'Latcho' had apparently become confused and had locked his cage, leaving his nephew, Vishnu Narine, inside. 'Latcho' was said to have run to the back of the store.
According to Ganesh Persaud, another employee of D. Singh and Sons, the bandits shot open the lock and entered the cage. They shot Narine in the leg and also blasted a shot over his head as he lay on the floor.
The bandits then reportedly grabbed the $22.265 million in local currency in addition to the foreign currency.
Speaking with Stabroek News some hours after the robbery, Persaud revealed that the foreign currency losses were yet to be totalled since, in the confusion, the cambio lost the book in which it recorded such amounts.
Diving for cover
This newspaper understands that at the time of the attack, a number of market constables and some members of the Special Constabulary were nearby. However, when the shooting started, they all fled, either through the nearby Stabroek Market or down Water Street. Others were even seen hiding as far away as the Magistrate's Court building on Avenue of the Republic.
Even as this was going on, the bandits kept up their hail of fire, gouging holes in the building housing D. Singh and Sons, Jag's as well as the nearby Sadia A. Import and Export, which shares a wall with the cambio.
Eyewitnesses said everyone dived for cover. Mini-buses and other vehicles backed off and cleared the area as the men kept up their barrage of bullets. The bandits were well-equipped with ammunition for their machine guns. They were seen rapidly replacing magazines as they emptied.
Some of their bullets dug into the walls of nearby concrete buildings, leaving holes clearly obvious when Stabroek News arrived on the scene.
During the shooting spree, the men also shot at a nearby car PEE 111 belonging Haniff Bacchus of Nandy Park, a Swiss House Cambio employee.
It is unclear whether this happened before or after the robbery at the cambio, but from the sketchy information received by this newspaper, the men also robbed that car.
One man reported that after shooting the car, which bore five bullet holes as evidence of the attack, the trunk opened and the bandits grabbed an unknown quantity of money there.
The men jumped into the waiting vehicle and, according to one incredulous observer, drove away with a gun pointing out of every window spewing bullets.
"Even the driver was shooting... what going on in this country, like the world gone mad," was the observer's reaction.
The men made their escape firing shots all along Water Street, causing panicked vendors to abandon their stalls and run. The braver ones stayed but threw themselves on the ground to escape the gunshots.
According to one Water Street vendor, the bandits turned onto Robb Street and them made their way through Regent Street where gunshots were still heard.
The vendor, like many other people along Water Street and America Street, lamented the fact that the police in the area were so poorly armed.
He also noted that, more than an hour after the robbery, the better armed sections of the police, the Quick Reaction Group were yet to appear on the scene.
Yesterday's robbery, the latest in a series, occurred less than 100 yards away from where popular cambio dealer Neville Sarjoo was killed in May last year in another daylight attack.
Hostages taken by bandits released
Two men taken hostage after a brutal robbery in Georgetown were released yesterday afternoon by their captors amidst high tension drama that saw one of the bandits being shot dead by the police and the city and its environs on tenterhooks.
The two men, employees of the Houston estate were held hostage yesterday and later released by the four bandits, who attacked an America Street cambio and shot and wounded five persons.
In their bid to escape the police, who had chased them through the streets of the city, the bandits grabbed 27-year-old Harold Narine and his assistant Daniram Persaud, and used their tractor to make their way to Mocha on the East Bank Demerara.
According to their accounts, they had been operating their tractor at the Lamaha canal shortly before 1100 hrs, when the four men approached them. The bandits, who had abandoned their vehicle behind North Ruimveldt, were unmasked and they demanded their vehicle, Narine told Stabroek News. He said that at first he got out of the vehicle and left the wheel to a bandit.
The bandit got in the cab, but Narine said that he seemed nervous and could not operate the vehicle. This made the others nervous and, according to Narine, they cocked their guns as if to shoot. At this point, Narine and Persaud felt forced to go back into the vehicle and began driving the men along the dam that eventually took them to Mocha.
Both Persaud and Narine said that one of the men had been wounded in his leg. Bloodstains in the cab of the vehicle were clearly visible last night.
During the ride to Mocha, the two shaken young men said, they were ordered to look straight ahead and to not say a word.
When they passed others on the road, the men repeated their orders to "shut up". Along the way, one of the bandits also punched Persaud in his face a number of times. At various points along the way, some of the bandits pointed their guns at the two men as if to kill them, but, according to Narine, on all three occasions, the wounded bandit urged that they be spared.
According to Persaud, when they reached the general area of Mocha, the bandits pushed them out of the vehicle at which time they encountered police ranks gathered at Mocha. The two men, after half an hour of being held by some of the most daring bandits in recent memory, gratefully sought refuge with the police.
The wounded bandit was apparently Terry Madhoo called 'Rusty', who was subsequently killed in a shoot out with police at Mocha. Madhoo had escaped from the Mazaruni Prison while serving a ten-year sentence for manslaughter. He was wanted for a series of armed robberies around the country. A police press release said a .32 revolver was recovered from Madhoo's body.
The police had reacted swiftly when the robbery was reported and embarked on a high speed chase through city streets behind the gunmen who raced away from the scene of the crime in a white car.
The bandits cleared the busy Water Street area in seconds by firing bullets wildly in all directions. The car sped up the road and turned into Robb Street careening between vehicles in its path, drove down Avenue of the Republic and into Regent Street and proceeded towards the North Georgetown area.
By this time the police had received word of their whereabouts and sirens could be heard screaming in several areas as police vehicles converged in the general direction of the escaping gunmen.
There was a sense of urgency in the air as the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and the police combined their resources in a thrust to capture the bandits.
The police set up road blocks along the East Bank Highway and one at the Mocha/Arcadia junction. Residents were not allowed into the area as the police and army conducted their operation. A long line of vehicles were parked along the Mocha/Arcadia road and residents milled around in the overbearing heat awaiting the outcome of the stand-off between the police and bandits. After a few hours, some were allowed to proceed to their homes at their own risk.
Just before midday, the GDF helicopter joined in the search for the bandits who had disappeared in the canefield.
The chopper, which was circling low over the area, was fired upon and its pilot took to the skies. However, it transported several troops to the area as the joint services operation expanded to include members of the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) in the search of the canefield for the fugitives.
The canefield was set afire in an effort to flush out the surviving gunmen. However, this effort was hampered by the fact that cane plants were young and there was not a strong enough wind to keep the flame burning.
Mocha/Arcadia looked like a war zone as the different troops took up various positions. Sporadic gunfire could be heard coming from the canefields as those involved in the operation exchanged shots with the bandits. The bandits also lobbed grenades in the general direction of the police, none of which hit their target.
This newspaper understands that another of the bandits was injured, but the police were unable to locate him.
Madhoo's body was brought out in a police van and taken to the Georgetown Hospital.
Deputy Superintendent Leon Fraser of the Police Quick Reaction Group brought out a large black bag apparently discarded by the bandits and containing several guns and numerous ammunition magazines.
The search led by Fraser and his troop continued until dark when the joint service members withdrew from the canefield and took up positions along the Mocha road. Fresh troops relieved those who had been waist-deep in the muddy waters of the canefield.
A police source told this newspaper that one of the men in the canefield was Linden London aka 'Blackie' who is wanted for a series of armed robberies and murders. London, the source said, had eluded police for years while living in the Kaieteur Top area. He is said to be very skilled at surviving in jungle areas and is the one most likely to give the searchers a hard time to find.
There was no electricity in the entire area from Industrial Site to Mocha Arcadia last night.
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