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Last week, the Islamabad police announced they have busted a seven-member gang of robbers which had been active in the most secured city in the country for six years. Good news. Though one may ask for how long?

For, according to several police officials, each one of the alleged “dirty seven” – among them two women – had been caught before, some more than once. They were charged with the crime either individually or collectively.

But none of them went through a trial as everyone got bail from the court at the very initial stage of prosecution – and vanished, to resume their trade. Indeed, police officials claim that under the law an accused woman cannot even be put in police lock up.

This time, however, all seven gang members have been remanded to jail for 15 days after they confessed to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) that they had committed several robberies or burglaries in Golra, Khanna and Margalla police precincts of Islamabad in recent months.

SIU officials would rather discuss their modus operandi than their exploits of the past six years. They just recall that eight cases of robberies and burglaries had been pending against the accused as they had jumped their bails and been declared absconders by the courts.

Police never got hold of their woman accomplices on physical remand to investigate cases. They got bail from the courts more easily than their male partners in the crime.

“Once released on bail the culprits disappeared, leaving us the extra task of retracing them and arresting them,” said one SIU officer. “This time a lucky tip helped us reach the gang members who were hiding in G-11 slum.” Victims of their loot have identified them since.

Investigators say the gang members hailed from Jhang and Chiniot. The gang used to come on “seasonal visits” to Islamabad and took up residence in slums to plan and launch their criminal activities. Usually, they stayed in the capital for a month during which they reconnoitered houses in upscale sectors to select targets and then plan the best way to strike it.

Female members would gain employment as housemaid posing as women in distress. Once in, they watched the family’s routine and the places it kept its valuables for a few days for the male members to strike at an opportune time.

Cleaning up four or five houses would bring them enough booty to share and they would leave in haste to their separate ways to home to live off it – until the next season, which usually arrived after five to seven months.

Police investigators had to take pains to trace them since the smart criminals took care not to leave behind any. The “housemaids” made excuses when employers asked for their CNIC. “My husband keeps it for fear that I may lose it,” they would say. If pressed – and the reconnaissance required the housemaid a longer stay – a fake ID arrived to satisfy the insistent employer.

In such circumstances, police have to depend on the sketch of the con woman based on the facial features described by her victims. “Unfortunately, such sketches prove helpful in only 60 to 65 percent cases,” said a frustrated-looking SIU officer.

Then there is the general public negligence of the police’s advice to get the CNIC of anyone employed as domestic servant. “By ignoring our advisories, people help criminals to impersonate and loot them,” he said. A few months ago, the SIU arrested a gang of four women and a man for involvement in three theft incidents in the houses after getting employment there.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2016