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Street crimes are on the rise in the Islamabad capital territory, with a new trend. Recently, several incidents have been reported of criminal gangs robbing unwary citizens and visitors to the city of their cash and valuables posing as policemen or law enforcers of other agencies at fake checkpoints on deserted roads and outside the airport.

Police caught a number of these robbers. But there is no clear answer why the crime is increasing. “Maybe, the criminals see an opportunity in the enhanced powers that have made law enforcers more awesome to ordinary, law abiding people,” conjectured a citizen.

In the most recent case, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Islamabad police arrested five persons for looting some expatriates by impersonating as police or customs officials this week. They confessed under interrogation that they relieved their victims of foreign currency by stopping them at different points of the Islamabad Highway, in the jurisdictions of Loi Bher, Sihala, Koral and Secretariat police.

In fact, two of the culprits had been arrested on the same charge at Faizabad on the same highway, some years back, according to SIU officials. They might have been perfecting their modus operandi of impersonation in the intervening period.

“They stopped their prey at deserted places, sitting with a dummy wireless set in a car fitted with forged official registration plate and police revolving lights,” said one official.

Investigation revealed that they belonged to a gang of 25 that operated in small groups of three to four persons. A few tribesmen started the business at Pakistan-Iran border in Balochistan and the nucleus grew into a gang as criminals of Rawalpindi and adjacent areas joined it. The founding tribesmen based themselves in Karachi.

Some of them started moving to Rawalpindi and now 15 tribesmen are members of the gang operating in the twin cities, according to SIU officials.

“Some incarcerated tribesmen recruited local partners among the inmates in Rawalpindi jail.” Their partnership “took real deep roots” when several tribesmen married local women. “This is now the second generation involved in the crime,” note the officials. It must be good hunting ground here as Karachi-based tribesmen also join the forays occasionally.

And the gang is methodical in its hunt. “They use white or grey-stolen Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic cars purchased in Peshawar for their operations as the make and colour are usually under the use of officials of law enforcers,” according to the SIU.

It is ingenious too. “They create a wireless set out of an empty cigarette pack, a pencil and black tape.”

And the gang members are audacious enough to carry weapons and fake their green car registration plates, police lights and wireless set. As armed men drag him to the car, the disoriented and shocked victim has to take the fearsome police, custom, or intelligence agency “officer” sitting in the car for real.

Their targets are expatriates returning home, cash collection vehicles of companies or distributors, and foreigners – and they lie in wait for them at deserted spots on the Islamabad Highway or near Tarnol.

Expatriates are spotted at the airport and followed up to the point the gang is waiting in its car, with blue revolving light at it top. They would stop and question the expatriate about bringing into the country money in excess to what is permitted or illegal items and steal these during the process of checking his documents and baggage.

If they want to be polite, the search would be conducted on the pretext of security concerns. Though the search would result in confiscation, the victim would be issued a receipt.

This trick is played with cash collecting vehicles more often. Foreigners are looted by fake “intelligence officers” checking their identity and travel documents in Islamabad’s posh markets. A police advisory asks foreigners not to meet demands by men in plain clothes for their wallet or documents.

It is some consolation that the impersonators avoid confrontation in public. “They never hurt or injure anyone in their operations,” said a SUI official.

Under the existing law, tricksters and impersonators are charged with fraud and have it easy. But the authorities are considering to book them for robbery which denies an accused bail and awards harsher punishment if convicted.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2016