Officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) have secured the premises of Ecobank-Liberia Limited in Kakata, Margibi County, after the bank came under attack by 10 armed men around 12:30 Sunday morning. The robbers reportedly armed with single barrel guns and other deadly weapons, fired on police officers who returned fire on the attackers.
The shootout resulted in the death of the gang’s ring leader only identified as Akin, a Nigerian national.
Akin, according to sources, has been on the police wanted list for several months for his alleged involvement in some of the armed robbery incidents especially on banking institutions in Monrovia and its environs.
In this latest attack, Akin and his men entered the bank by cutting the bars of one of the windows near the generator using an oxygen tank and a saw blade. The shootout with LNP officers which ensued left four of the robbers wounded. They were taken to the C. H. Rennie Hospital in the
Margibi County where unconfirmed reports say the robbers are in critical condition.
The wounded suspects include Samuel David, 29, who was part of last November’s attack on Equatorial Palm, police said. He was on previous occasions charged with armed robbery, and was jailed at the Grand Bassa Prison Center, but escaped under dubious circumstances.
The others are Alex Yakpawolo, 33, who told police he was recruited by Akin as the driver for the operation; Junior Johnson, 35, and Abraham Doe, 34.
The robbers damaged the bank’s close circuit (CCTV) camera, and the automated teller machine (ATM) server.
A release from the LNP said a high alert has been issued by the police in the county in search of the remaining five suspects said to have been waiting in a get-away vehicle.
The LNP has informed residents of Margibi County not to provide hideouts for the escaped robbers who are being pursued by law enforcement officers, warning that anyone harboring them will be arrested and charged with armed robbery.
The LNP said despite the drawdown of the UN Mission and the logistical constraints coupled with low budgetary support facing the police, it will continue to provide professional services to the public.
The LNP has assured the business community of its fullest protection from criminals and called for information sharing with the police.
Several residents of Kakata City who visited the scene of the incident commended the police for their prompt intervention that saved the bank from being robbed.
Meanwhile, the commercial driver, who claimed that he was hired by the gang’s ring leader, has confessed to his involvement. Suspect Yarkpawolo told reporters that Akin convinced him to join the group to break into the Kakata Ecobank branch to become rich.
He said prior to the July 24 attempt, Akin allegedly hired six security guards from the well-known firm Security Expert Agency of Liberia (SEGAL), which is assigned at the Ecobank Kakata Branch. Through that arrangement, suspect Yarkpawolo said SEGAL security guards were allegedly
providing the gang with regular information about the bank and when their planned burglary should take effect.
While in the process, he said Akin obtained passports for the six SEGAL security guards with the understanding that after their mission succeeded the guards would leave the country.
He allegedly named Alline Gerald, SEGAL-Kakata shift commander as one of the six guards he could identify by name. He admitted knowing the rest of the five guards, but not by name.
According to their arrangement, suspect Yarkpawolo said the SEGAL guards agreed to acknowledge the suspects upon the transfer of government monthly salaries to the bank.
He said, on Saturday July 23, the suspects were told by Akin that the mission was ready and that they should move to Kakata. At about 8 p.m. he said, the SEGAL security guards (three in uniform and three in muftis) escorted them and managed to cut the chain to the back door of the bank where they entered.
While managing their way to the bank’s vault, explained suspect Yarkpawolo, the SEGAL guards alarmed that police officers were around.
For his part, suspect Junior Johnson, a scraps and iron dealer at the Iron Factory, said from the beginning he never knew anything about the planned bank robbery. He however admitted that he was contacted by Akin to meet him in Kakata to cut some irons. Suspect Johnson further stated that upon arrival in Kakata, he along with the other suspects were taken to the bank at night where he was forced by Akin and the others, including the alleged six SEGAL guards, to break into the bank.
According to him, it was the SEGAL guards who directed the robbers to where the keys to the safe were kept.
In reaction to the robbers’ claims, SEGAL CEO/General Manager, Momo T. Cyrus, denied his security guards’ involvement in the attempted burglary at the Ecobank Kakata branch.
He said it was the prompt, professional action of SEGAL guards that elicited the swift response of the police to the attack. He said the robbers crossed over the fence and entered the bank’s compound through the back after which SEGAL guards raised the alarm prompting immediate state security intervention.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cyrus underscored the need for government to allow the private security guards to carry guns to combat the current rising tide of criminal activities. He said if his guards on active duty were armed, they would have prevented the robbers from entering the bank.
Ecobank Liberia Acting Managing Director, David K. Thompson, who confirmed the attempted robbery on the bank, expressed regret over the incident.
Condemning the robbery, the president of the Liberia Bankers Association and Chief Executive Officer of Liberia Bank for Development and Investment, John B.S. Davies, described it as a threat to the country’s banking sector.
“As bankers, we are engaging government through the Central Bank of Liberia to help assign armed state security at various banking institutions. If this can work, robbery of banking institutions could be curtailed,” Mr. Davies maintained.