Masked gunmen kill 15 in robbery of Baghdad gold jewelry shopsBy Hamid Ahmed, AP
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Gunmen rob gold shops in Iraqi capital, kill 15
BAGHDAD — Masked gunmen shot up a gold jewelry market in Baghdad Tuesday, killing 15 people before they fled with a large quantity of gold in their arms, police and hospital officials said.
The attack was the latest in a crime wave in the capital that has swelled over the past year as sectarian violence in Iraq has ebbed. Many of those involved are believed to be battle-hardened former insurgents unable to find legitimate work.
After the attacks in the southwestern neighborhood of Baiyaa, a dead body that police and witnesses said was one of the assailants was covered with a cloth on the bloodstained sidewalk amid shattered glass of the shop windows. The area was sealed off.
Mohammed Elaiwi Nassir, a witness who owns a real estate office nearby, said the attackers were heavily armed including with rocket-propelled grenades while security forces were slow to respond.
He told The Associated Press the gunmen arrived around 11:20 a.m. in five or six cars, one of them a minibus. Each vehicle had three masked gunmen inside, some armed with RPGs and others with machine-guns and pistols fitted with silencers.
“They started shooting into the air to clear the street and also threw percussion grenades,” said 45-year old Nassir. “Then they started shooting directly the gold shops showcases from outside and scooping up gold in their hands,” he added.
“The attack lasted for about 15 minutes during which only one policeman showed up, but he was shot in his shoulder and leg by the attackers. After thirty minutes, the security forces came.”
The attacked shops are clustered in two buildings at one end of a busy market street with many other types of stores. There are normally police patrolling the market area, but it was not immediately clear whether the gold shops had any additional security in place at the time of the attack.
Police said the gunmen had covered their faces with traditional Arab headscarves. They first set off a roadside bomb near the shops, killing four bystanders and wounding three, city police officials said.
Then they opened fire on 12 shops, killing nine gold shop owners or their workers and two bystanders.
A hospital official confirmed the number of casualties. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Jewelry stores have been frequent targets of the crime wave, along with homes, cars, currency exchanges, pawn shops and banks have also been hit.
But Tuesday’s attack was one of the deadliest in the upswing.
Many of those involved in the crime wave are believed to be battle-hardened former insurgents unable to find legitimate work. They often bring the same brutality to their crimes that they used in Sunni-Shiite sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007.
There are few statistics tracking the number and kinds of crimes, in part because the government remains focused on the bombings and other insurgent attacks that continue throughout Iraq.
But crime has added to the woes of ordinary Iraqis, already plagued by years of war and a lack of electricity and other services.
In April last year, Iraq created a military task force to battle gangland-style crime after gunmen killed at least seven people during a daylight heist of jewelry stores.
In one of the most sensational crimes in recent years last July, several members of Iraq’s presidential guards — who protect senior officials — broke into the state-run Rafidain Bank and stole about 5.6 billion Iraqi dinars, or $4.8 million. They tied up eight guards at the bank in central Baghdad and shot each one execution-style.
In October, at least eight people were killed during a shootout following the robbery of two jewelry stores in Baghdad. The robbers stole gold and money.