/ 12 July 2008

Another ATM destroyed in spate of bombings

In the latest incident in a spate of bombings of automated teller machines (ATMs) in South Africa, especially in Gauteng, an ATM was bombed in Etwatwa, Daveyton, in the East Rand on Saturday, police said.

Spokesperson Inspector Nakedi Rapholo said four to five men were seen at the First National Bank ATM at the Las Vegas shopping complex at about 3am before it was bombed.

An undisclosed amount of money was taken.

The men fled the scene on foot.

On Wednesday, an ATM was blown up in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Gingingdlovu, the Zululand Observer reported. The Standard Bank cash machine was outside a local butchery.

According to the report there were two explosions, and a police patrol vehicle approaching the scene came under fire. The driver reversed and the van ended up in the river opposite a liquor store, the newspaper reported. The robbers were said to have fled the scene in a silver Mercedes-Benz and a bakkie.

ATM bombings have increased by 3 000% over the past three years, the Saturday Star reported. It revealed that explosives stolen from gold mines are being sold on the black market.

A huge problem exists in the control of explosives, said Johan Burger, head of the criminal justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies.

”Criminals may have access to other industries but indications are they get their explosives from corrupt officials at mines,” he said, adding that the bombers represent a sophisticated group that has the expertise needed to use explosives.

Burger also said this is evident in the planning and execution of the bombings. ”These are from highly trained individuals with firearm training and a military background.”

The newspaper report also said mines across Gauteng are engaging in internal meetings to discuss the leakage of explosives.

Graham Briggs, Harmony Gold’s CEO, said theft of explosives is very difficult to control, especially underground.

Call for dedicated unit
The Democratic Alliance has called for a dedicated police unit to investigate ATM bombings around the country. There have been 294 ATM bombings — seven in Gauteng alone during the past two days — since January this year.

”The dramatic increase in the number of ATM bombings this year … underscores the need for these crimes to be treated as a national emergency and to be investigated by a dedicated unit within the SAPS [South African Police Service],” DA spokesperson Dianne Kohler-Barnard said on Thursday.

It is clear that these attacks are being carried out by highly sophisticated and heavily armed syndicates, which, if not adequately dealt with, threaten to add to South Africa’s already horrific levels of aggravated robbery, she said.

The modus operandi of ATM bombings indicate that they are generally carried out by highly organised groups of individuals armed with assault rifles and explosives.

This raises the concern that members of the SAPS or the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are possibly involved. Already at least two SAPS members have been implicated in recent ATM attacks.

Access to explosives and assault weapons may also have been facilitated by the numerous thefts of such weapons from the SAPS and SANDF.

SAPS’s organised crime unit is reportedly working on investigating some of these cases, but it is unclear whether there is sharing of information throughout the country and whether investigators are able to collate information on similarities in the techniques used to carry them out.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that ATM bombings are inconsistently recorded as armed robberies, malicious damage to property, or contraventions of the Explosives Act.

The DA intends to pose parliamentary questions on the matter to Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, Kohler-Barnard said. — Sapa