Imtiaz Uddin Babul left a modest driving job about ten years ago to become a gold robber.
By the time he was caught after robbing several jewellery shops in Chittagong in December 2014, he was the leader of a 15-member gang.
Babul gave a confessional statement revealing how his gang ran precise, well-choreographed operations at jewellery stores for years.
The gang was split into three teams during a robbery: the patrol, the operational squad and the back-up team.
The patrol comprising of two to three people were responsible for spotting and casing suitable jewellery shops, and checking security systems and escape routes. When a suitable shop was found, members of the patrol went in posing as customers and placed an order, asking for it to be made urgently within two or three days.
On the delivery date, the operational squad picked a time when police or RAB patrol teams were in the middle of changing shifts. The patrol member who placed the order entered the shop to receive the goods.
When shopkeepers were busy with the customer, the squad comprising of five to six people entered the shop, pulled out weapons and began ransacking the jewellery. Within three to five minutes, they had cleared out the shop and sent a signal to the back-up team.
The back-up team then exploded hand bombs and firecrackers to create panic in the vicinity of the shop, helping their colleagues flee the scene.
Babul said that he and his associates had gone to Chittagong 15 days before the operation. However, they failed to rob the targeted shops as police arrived at the scene too early and surprised them.
“Babul also confessed to his involvement with three other such robberies,” said AKM Mohiuddin Selim, officer-in-charge of Chittagong’s Kotwali police station.
Babul’s team, however, is not unique in its operations. Countless other gangs follow the exact same method to rob stores. Over the years, police have seen some names come up regularly in investigations of gold robbery cases.
A list of 188 people has been compiled from the cases filed in the last five years. All of these robberies have the same modus operandi: robbers come in with guns and throw bombs when escaping.
According to the reports of law enforcement agencies and newspapers, 115 such robberies and 85 mugging incidents have taken place since 2012.
About 3,957 tolas of gold ornaments and jewellery made of other gemstones, altogether worth about Tk8.3 crore, were looted by the robbers in last five years, the reports said.
The latest of these incidents was on March 11, when robbers looted about 100 tolas of gold ornaments from Chapai Jewellers in Savar. The robbers fired from their guns while fleeing the scene, leaving the shop owner and two of his employees injured.
Several jewellery shop robberies have taken place in Barguna, Patuakhali, Barisal, Pirojpur and Comilla this year, according to media reports.
Jewellery shop owners have said many victims do not report being robbed to police fearing legal complications.
“Jewellery traders are in fear for their safety and wellbeing because of such robberies,” Bangladesh Jewellers Samity (Bajus) General Secretary Dilip Kumar Agarwala told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We have learned of many robberies from all over the country. When we hear the news, we urge the respective police stations, law enforcement and district administration to take immediate action to recover the looted valuables and arrest the robbers.”
However, Dilip says Bajus keeps no record of the incidents or looted valuables.
Law enforcement officials say robbers travel great distances between two jobs and avoid committing a second crime in the same area for three to four months, to avoid detection.
Many of the robbers have day jobs as drivers, labourers, hawkers and other blue collar workers, which helps them stay under cover. They carry out one or two robberies per month to avoid the attention of law enforcement agencies.
Detectives said the robbers sometimes identify themselves as law enforcement agency members.
“It is hard to detect a criminal when they are in disguise before and after committing an offence. These robbers are using the trick to avoid our vigilance,” Police Bureau of Investigation’s Chief Deputy Inspector General Banaz Kumar Majumdar said.
Most groups follow the three-team strategy that Babul’s gang used, and are experts at what they do. “The whole job is done in three to 10 minutes,” Banaz said.
Banaz added that the robbers almost always target the time of shift change seeing as it is difficult for law enforcement to respond at this time.
A police informer, who has been collecting information about robbers for the last 10 years, said: “Inter-district robbery gangs began the trend robbing with bomb blasts in the last eight to nine years,” he said.
He said that he had received several death threats from the robbers who were arrested because of the information he gave.
“There are many robbers who got arrested and then came out on bail resumed the same work again,” he added.
Sahely Ferdous, assistant inspector general of Police Headquarters, said: “A list of robbers including the persons who loot jewellery shops by exploding hand bombs was submitted to the Police Headquarters. Police across the country have been instructed to keep keen eyes on the activities of robbers.”
She further said that apart from their regular duties, they were mobilsing community policing to prevent such crimes.
“As such robbery incidents are not frequent and most of the robbers are not specialised in the trend, we follow common techniques against such offences,” she said.
Jewellery shops were requested to install CCTV cameras so that police can identify the culprits if any incident takes place, she added.