29 September 2008

Cameroon: Pirates Hit Limbe; Kill, Rob Banks

A group of unidentified armed robbers stormed Limbe in the wee hours of September 28, killed one, wounded many and carted away several millions from AMITY Bank.The robbers, who reportedly came by sea, succeeded to escape under the cover of intensive gun fire.

Victim of stray bullet

The group of about 50 or more, eyewitnesses say, disembarked at the Down Beach water front and approached their targets: the banks that line the Down Beach Avenue - SGBC, AMITY Bank, SCB Credit Lyonnais and BEAC.A security guard at Amity Bank, Kinge Toko, who survived the over two hours of gun fire under the cover of some old rags, told The Post, "I saw them come from the sea."

He said he was standing in front of the bank at about 1 a.m when he saw four well armed men, some clad in military garb and others in assorted attire.According to Kinge, all of them were well armed and had white head bands. He said the four made their way towards the SDO's office where they took up positions, as several others followed and converged on the bank.

Kinge said after sensing danger, he crept to the backyard of the bank. But as he was drifting towards the rear, he discovered that there were other armed men already taking up positions.The night watchman said he crept back and took cover under some old rags by the bank. Then, he said, he heard the men mutter in French, "tire á n'importe quoi que tu vois" - translated loosely, (shoot at whatever you find).

When asked if they continued all their conversation in French, he said no. Kinge said most of their conversation was in some strange coded language.He said at some moments, he heard them say something like 'yawa!" And each time they uttered this slang, he heard gunshots or loud explosions.

Break In

The pirates apparently used explosives to gain access into AMITY Bank. They reportedly entered the bank through the back door and emptied the safe which is suspected of containing several millions.After their operation at AMITY, the pirates reportedly proceeded to SGBC Bank and broke into it. But here, they failed to access the safe. They, however, destroyed a lot of property in their wake.

Limbe inhabitants at the scene of robbery

Their attempt to find their way into the Central Bank - Bank of Central African States, BEAC, was allegedly abortive as they were forced to retreat when the guards there opened fire on them.A police officer on guard at BEAC, PC Njinga Njinga, said when the robbers approached, they (officers on guard) opened fire, forcing them (robbers) to retreat saying, "they have guns."

Absentee Security

Even if the guards of the banks were armed, the scale of the attack, many say, was one that could have only been countered by another heavily armed force.The gang was reportedly armed with Kalashnikov rifles (AK 47) and machine guns.The Minister Delegate in charge of Defence, Remy Ze Meka, who came to assess the damage, told the press by midday that, bullet cases recovered from the robbery scene confirmed that the attackers used AK 47s.

The guards said the bandits fired incessantly for almost two hours without any reaction from the Cameroonian armed forces.The vicinity of the attack is not far off from the Man O War Bay naval base near the Operation Delta Command Headquarters in Bota where a rapid intervention could have come from.

Belated Intervention

Some elements of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, BIR, that were deployed in Limbe since the final handover of the Bakassi on August 14, reportedly arrived two hours after the pirates had already made their get-away.

The BIR and the bandits reportedly exchanged some fire but the attackers vamoosed safely, leaving no trace.The Post learnt that while they were executing the heist, the engines of their boats were idling, ready for quick take-off.

One Killed, Several Wounded

A student, whose name The Post got as Boh Geh, got shot in a FINI Hotel bus that was ferrying night-clubbers to its Calypso Night Club.Apparently, the bus was caught by a hail of bullets as the driver, Ayissi Eloundou, tried to manoeuvre a fast U-turn and speed back.

Boh, who was inside the bus stopped the bullet and died instantly.

Three others, Alids Samba, Evaristus Mbu Kong and Wilfred Babila sustained bullet wounds.

Babila, 20, said he is a student of GBHS Limbe. He said they had just left a graduation ceremony in honour of some of them who passed the last GCE A Levels exams at the school.

After the party, they decided to crown the merriment at a night club in town. Their quest for more enjoyment took them to the vicinity of the shooting where they were caught in the gun fire.

"Nigerian Flour Bag"

A video footage taken by CRTV cameras inside AMITY Bank showed an empty 50 kg bag marked "Port Harcourt Flour Mill Company Ltd, Nigeria." This aroused suspicion that the bag might have been left behind by the bandits.

Commission Of Enquiry

Minister Ze Meka told the press that he had ordered that a commission be created by General Pierre Samabo, who came visiting the scene with him, and other top military officers to investigate who the attackers were.But the Minister blamed the bank officials for installing inadequate security measures to pre-empt such a break-in, which has been described by many as one of the biggest bank robberies in recent times in the country.

The Minister said banks need to ensure that their safes are well secured as was the case with SGBC Bank where the robbers found it difficult to break in.As to where the thieves might have come from, the Minister was of the opinion that they might not have come from afar.

"In our opinion, it is not like they are big thieves who came from afar. They must have been people who know the place well; people who live among us," said the Minister.He urged the bank owners to cooperate with the investigators, for he suspected too, that the thieves could have worked with the complicity of some insiders.

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