Cambio bandits elude intense Mocha dragnet

Stabroek News
September 24, 1999

A police/army battalion conceded defeat early yesterday afternoon and called off the search for three of four armed bandits, who left five persons injured in the wake of their shooting and robbery spree in America Street on Wednesday.

In the aftermath of the failed dragnet, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis yesterday issued a call for public support to bring the men to justice.

Yesterday morning at about 0900 hrs, members of the Tactical Services Unit and ranks from other sections of the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Special Forces began moving into canefields in Mocha/Arcadia and nearby areas to continue their search. Others from the police's Target Special Force (formerly called the Quick Reaction Group), led by Superintendent Steve Merai and Deputy Superintendent Leon Fraser joined the search at about 1000 hrs.

The troops fanned out over a distance of about one and a half miles on the dirt road which separated the canefields and moved into one of the fields where the bandits had exchanged fire with the police on Wednesday.

With the exception of some members of the GDF, who had stayed in the canefields all Wednesday night, the other searchers had withdrawn to more comfortable, dry grounds.

After about four hours, the search party started withdrawing from the fields. Four and a half hours later the last of the ranks left the area in two vehicles, leaving an ominous silence in their wake. The search which started on Wednesday morning at about 1130 hrs, saw the usually quiet village of Mocha/Arcadia come alive as residents took up every vantage point possible to get a look at the proceedings. They were not disappointed on Wednesday since they were able to proudly boast of running for cover from flying bullets as the bandits exchanged fire with the searchers. However, their numbers reduced significantly yesterday with the lack of action. Within minutes of the troops withdrawing, the village was once again quiet. "We did another sweep of the area that they (the bandits) have been engaging us in fire and we have not found them. We are therefore calling on the public to assist us as they assisted us yesterday (Wednesday). The members of the public were very helpful in helping us to locate them when they escaped...," Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis told reporters at a press conference at the GTV 11 Studios. He said up until 1300 hrs yesterday the police combed the canefield aback of Mocha/Arcadia where the bandits had fled and are satisfied that the men are not there anymore. Lewis urged the public to put more effort into helping the police, contending that some persons knew the whereabouts of the gunmen in the days prior to the latest high profile robbery. He said information reaching the police state that the men were holed up at a location in the West Demerara some hours before the robbery. "If we had gotten the information we would be better off," Lewis stated. Crime Chief Floyd McDonald who, along with Traffic Chief Paul Slowe, accompanied the commissioner to the press conference said a house in West Demerara was searched and found empty, but there were indications that persons had previously occupied the building. Lewis asserted that there may have been about twelve persons involved in the operation to rob the cambio. He pointed out that there are factors which are included in a robbery such as the recruitment of taxi drivers, car rentals, somebody to keep the loot and persons in communication by telephones. McDonald noted that the robbers sometimes stayed in hotels but they move constantly from one point to another which creates difficulty in tracking them down.

In most cases one of the gang members is familiar with the target area they set out to hit, he said. "There is no where in the world where you solve crimes in a country without public support and we need that support," Lewis emphasised.

He used the forum to thank the public for the backing they gave the police in the attempt to apprehend the men and also singled out the policemen for the bravery demonstrated in conducting the operation. He noted that many people do not know of the dangers policemen face when fighting crime. At the moment the force is doing a review of the particular needs of the police when engaged in such operations as that conducted over the last two days, the commissioner disclosed.

He admitted that the police should have cordoned off the crime scene at the America Street cambio that was robbed but at the time the ranks were more interested in chasing after and capturing the gunmen.

At the review meeting yesterday it was decided that a team would be appointed specifically to cordon off the area and the divisions have been alerted, he revealed.

Lewis said a quick reaction group will also be established in all the divisions to respond to this type of armed robbery.

The commissioner revealed that police intelligence found that the men involved in the robbery on Wednesday were the same gang which operated on the East Coast Demerara where several robberies were committed.

He said the police had put out wanted notices for the four men who carried out the daring attack on Wednesday. He noted one of the money dealers robbed operated out of the back of a car of which the criminals were aware. The other had a legitimate cambio.

Lewis also disclosed that there are reports that the robbers may have snatched money from others as they made their escape.

The bandits, one of whom was killed in a shootout with the joint corps in the Mocha/Arcadia, East Bank Demerara canefield on Wednesday, had led the police on a protracted high speed chase through the city. They had eventually dumped their vehicle in the North Ruimveldt backlands and taken off into the canefield. Along the way, they hijacked a tractor and held its two occupants--Harold Narine and Danram Persaud, employees of Houston Estate--hostage. After being threatened at gun point on the half-hour drive through the canefield which took them to Mocha, Narine and Persaud were released. Persaud was beaten by the bandits.

The bandits then engaged the police/army ranks in a mini-war, during which, they lobbed grenades at the police. It was during this battle that Mazaruni Prison escapee, Terry Madhoo called 'Rusty' was killed.

Recounting the incident, Lewis said the police picked up the bandits' trail in Regent Street as they sped along firing bullets in the air with high calibre weapons.

The men went to the back of North Ruimveldt and disappeared into the canefield. But they were followed by the police, he stated, as their getaway trail was revealed to the police by public spirited citizens.

The commissioner declared that within a short space of time road blocks were set up in many areas around the country.

Attempts by the police were made to intercept the gunmen from the North Ruimveldt end as well as from the Mocha/Arcadia area. They engaged the robbers in gunfire on about four occasions, Lewis stated, one of which ended up in the death of gang member Madhoo.

McDonald said Madhoo was killed in an exchange of gunfire when the bandits encountered the police on a dam on their way to Mocha with the tractor they had hijacked.

The police surrounded nine beds in the canefield aback of Mocha/Arcadia, he said, and additional resources were sent for from areas such as the East Coast and West Demerara for back-up. The army, too, was involved in the search for the men.

The area was cordoned off and swept on Wednesday which resulted in the discovery of a bag.

Lewis said during the operation, the police made ample use of radios the force has acquired which helped the dragnet to close in faster on the gunmen.

The release said some smoke grenades were fired into the canefields by the police and attempts were made to set the cane afire to flush the bandits out. However, the cane proved to be too green to sustain a fire. The commissioner asserted that the police knew who the perpetrators of the crime were and he urged them to give themselves up to face trial.

"We do not wish to confront criminals knowing full well that we ourselves are under attack and may suffer grievous, or critical or fatal injuries," he stated.

A policeman, corporal Ewart Hutson aka 'Toots', was injured in the robbery as he attempted to engage the criminals "at great risk to his life".

Hutson received four bullet wounds, one each in the finger, buttocks, arm, and below his knee, Lewis said.

He disclosed the corporal has lost a lot of blood and that Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj, paid him a visit him on Wednesday to check on his condition. Lewis and the Crime Chief also visited Hutson yesterday.

The commissioner said the leader of the gang, who was previously identified as Lindon London aka 'Blackie', is a highly trained man and former army member. The release said he is well schooled in jungle warfare and is extremely dangerous.

America Street cambio D. Singh and Sons was robbed of over $22 million dollars by the bandits in an assault which saw the gunmen fire indiscriminately at bystanders. Five persons were injured.

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