Judgment day for terror gang

HARARE - A suspected gang of armed robbers that reigned terror at mines and business premises before they were busted in August 2015, leading to the recovery of an assortment of artillery, will be handed their sentence at the Harare Regional Magistrates’ Courts tomorrow.

In what could probably rank among the police’s recent success stories, a crack team pounced on the gang of 14 at their hide out at a farm in Darwendale — a small town located about 62 kilometres west of the capital city — leading to the arrest of the suspects.

Police recovered an AK 47 assault rifle, three Noringo pistols with live rounds of ammunition, one Lama pistol, another Noringo pistol without bullets, a vector pistol with five rounds, axes, iron bars and spikes, which they reportedly used against their victims.

All the recovered guns had their serial numbers erased, making it difficult for investigators to trace their origins.

The gang faces eight counts of charges ranging from contravening the Firearms and Explosives Act, plain robbery and armed robbery, and attempted murder.

It comprises Simbarashe Tavengwa, 37, Ngonidzashe Mutiba, 36, Tinashe Chikara, 49, Titus Chatukuta, 35, Ray Shangari, 35, Tinashe Matinyenya, 28, Wilson Kaneta, 33; Khumbulani Ncube, 35, Mgcini Ramachela, 33; Charles Nyandoro, 53, Rodwell Mutunya, 34, Takafa Vumbunu, 33, Doubty Mharadze, 39 and Happymore Muchenje, 23.

They appeared before Harare regional magistrate Hosea Mujaya for a full trial.

During trial, all accused persons denied possessing the firearms and claimed police had planted them at their hideout when they were arrested.

The suspects were arrested following an incident at Ayrshire Mine in Banket on August 4, 2015, when they allegedly waylaid two security vehicles transporting about 6,5kg of gold from the mine to Fidelity Printers in Harare.

It was alleged that the gang was armed with six pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle, axes, iron bars and two sets of spikes as they prepared to attack Safeguard Security company cash-in-transit vehicles.

When the gang was about two kilometres from the mine, it is alleged they saw the vehicles approaching and threw spikes on the road in a bid to deflate the tyres and continue to attack.

The victims noticed the spikes and realised they were in danger and tried to reverse the vehicles, but the gang quickly moved in and deflated the vehicle tyres.

The State alleges the gang simultaneously emerged from the right side of the bush, wearing matching blue work-suits and face masks and at the same time, opening fire at the fleeing security vehicles.

As the area was turned into a battlefield, the gang allegedly used axes, hammers and crowbars to smash the front screen and side windows of the armoured vehicle carrying gold, but the crew did not surrender.

The court heard that the security crew reversed safely from the firing zone but the driver of the escort Toyota Hilux car lost control of the vehicle and rammed against a tree.

Tavengwa and his gang kept randomly firing at the stationary vehicle, while the security crew returned fire, resulting in one of the gang members getting shot.

After some time, it is alleged, the suspected robbers realised they had lost and drove away in their getaway truck, which they later abandoned about 20 kilometres from the scene, leaving trails of blood on the passenger door.

Some of the gang members were captured by surveillance cameras fitted on to the two armoured vehicles, leading to their positive identification by police.

It was also alleged that the blood trail left behind was taken for forensic examination and matched one of the suspects whose wounds were concluded to have been inflicted by a gun shot.

The latest development comes at a time the Zimbabwe Republic Police has expressed concern over the rise in armed robbery cases in the country involving firearms.

“Police are urging the public to deposit their money in banks and engage reputable security companies to guard their premises,” national police spokesperson, Paul Nyathi, said recently.

“We also urge the public to desist from travelling during the night, especially in isolated places to avoid being victims of this heinous crime,” he added.

The proliferation of firearms and ammunition that are increasingly being used to commit crime in Zimbabwe is despite the presence of restrictive regulations that prohibit their illegal manufacture and use.

Section 11 of according to the Firearms Act, Chapter 10:09, a person can only possesses the weaponry after issuance of a requisite Firearms certificate.

Police, however, suspect that the majority of the guns used in the spate of armed robberies were being smuggled from neighbouring countries.

Last year, the police launched full-scale investigations into a case in which ammunition manufacturing equipment and thousands of bullet heads and empty cartridges were discovered at a farm in Domboshava.

The discovery was made following the eviction of white commercial farmer Geofrey Kelly McKinnon (66) from the property by the messenger of court.

In 2006, police discovered an arms cache at Peter Hitschman’s house in Mutare, which included an AK 47 riffle, four FN riffles, seven Uzis, 19 pistols and revolvers, 11 shotguns and an assortment of ammunition.

The dangerous weapons were allegedly meant to commit acts of banditry, insurgency, sabotage, and terrorism.

Hitschman was in 2007 jailed for three years for possessing dangerous weapons but was acquitted on far more serious insurgency and terrorism charges that allegedly involved a plot to kill President Robert Mugabe.

He had one year of his four-year jail term suspended by the High Court judge on circuit in Mutare, Justice Alfas Chitakunye presided.

Although Zimbabweans are not exposed to a gun-culture due to strict firearm controls, several prominent people have had trouble with the law over guns.

They include MDC treasurer Roy Bennet, former Zanu PF Mashonaland West chairman, Temba Mliswa and the late former vice president Joshua Nkomo, among others.

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