Four foreign nationals believed to be part of a notorious syndicate that has been on a crime spree across the Nelson Mandela Bay metro for the past 18 months have been arrested.
The arrests at the weekend are a breakthrough in the pursuit of the gang, dubbed the “door-kickers”, who are thought to be part of a larger, provincewide syndicate.
The gang has been targeting houses across the Bay since the middle of last year, with up to 25 houses broken into in one month alone.
Last week, the front doors of at least eight houses were kicked in and items stolen, while in just one day earlier this year, eight houses in different suburbs were broken into – all by a gang using the same method.
One of the men arrested is wanted for burglary in East London.
Although police are still investigating, they suspect the four are linked to a larger syndicate.
Security experts said about 400-plus houses in the Bay had been targeted by gangs using the same method in the past 18 months.
This involves the front or back door being kicked in, usually during the day when the occupants are at work, and TVs, safes and jewellery stolen.
The burglaries are carried out within minutes.
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the suspects, aged between 21 and 24, were travelling in a white VW Polo that had been on the police watch-list for weeks when they were caught.
She said that due to the spate of incidents, police had assigned a detective from the Operational Command Centre at the Mount Road Cluster office to consolidate all the cases that could be linked to the door-kicker gang.
“Attention was given to dockets where forensic evidence and video footage had shown the culprits at the crime scenes.”
Naidu said the breakthrough was made on Friday, when an officer recognised one of the men in the Polo as they drove past his patrol vehicle.
“The arrest stems from a photo of a suspect that had been identified as being linked to the group,” she said.
“After recognising the man, the Mount Road Crime Prevention Unit was alerted.” When backup arrived, the Polo was stopped and the suspects arrested.”
“Items seized [allegedly] included implements used to break the locks of security gates,” Naidu said.
“This is a large group and we suspect there are more suspects and that they are linked to other crimes.”
She said Home Affairs had been asked to help establish if the men were in the country legally.
Atlas Security operations manager Monty Montgomery said his team had been chasing the gang for several months.
“This is without a doubt a breakthrough,” he said.
“Judging by the number of firearms and televisions stolen, it would suggest they are part of a very large and highly organised syndicate.”
“We always suspected the group operated in other towns as they would disappear for weeks at a time and then return to the Bay.”
Montgomery said the group could also possibly have links to the spate of house robberies in which the owners were tied up and threatened with firearms, as well as to a gang that has been targeting businesses after hours, breaking through the roofs and angle-grinding the safes open with high-power tools.
The four men are due to appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court today.