Location : Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

 in Malaysia is rampant. Many well-frequented restaurants, coffee-houses and bars have lost customers. People are wary of brazen snatch-robbers who can suddenly come up to them wielding parangs (machetes). They slash people at random as they help themselves to bags. Those slashed are customers unlucky enough to be near them.

This type of robbery has taken a distinctly new and frightening dimension. It used to be the robbers merely come up to you in a motor-bike, the pillion rider grabs and snatches away your hand-bag and the bike shoots off with them. Then it became common for these robbers to wieldparangs. They slash you if you resist their efforts. But nowadays, they have clearly adopted a more frightening strategy. They slash at you first. Then they help themselves to your bag.

An incident hit the front page of the sun [Thursday 18 July 2013]. A well-known 57 year old obstetrician and gynaecologist stepped outside her clinic. She was carrying a handbag with part of the clinic’s takings for the day. She heard a soft ‘hello’ from behind her. She turned around in response. That’s when he slashed her hand. It cut off her thumb. She slumped in excruciating pain as the snatch-robber took her hand bag.

Another publicised incident occurred in Sepatak (Kuala Lumpur suburb) on Tuesday 16 July. A 20 year old and his 21 year old fellow student were walking towards their rented home at about 7.30 pm. Suddenly, four robbers in two motor-bikes pulled up in front and attacked them. He suffered a slashed ear and head injuries. His friend managed to run into the house in time and succeeded in evading the robbers running after him.

Talk about snatch-robbery when in Kuala Lumpur. You will find it’s a great conversation topic. It’s a subject almost everyone knows something about. That’s because many of their friends or relatives have been victims. Too many of my friends have personally experienced a snatch robbery, something unheard of some years ago. They consider themselves lucky to have escaped with minor bruises. There are cases where victims have been badly dragged along the road as they clung onto hand-bags snatched from them. Some have suffered terribly agonising injuries as a consequence.

Has the situation worsened? Just drive around the housing areas in Kuala Lumpur. You find a new phenomenon – the so-called “gated communities.” Local residents set up road-blocks. They employ security guards to man these road blocks. The problem is that they are actually taking control of public roads and blocking free access to ‘outsiders.’ This ‘siege mentality’ is a form of self-help. It is a last resort where the police are seen as simply unable to properly respond to the phenomenon.

Another form of snatch-robbery in Kuala Lumpur has become common-place. It’s calledkidnapping. Actually, it is body-snatching (Technically, it is abductiona crime under section 362 of the Penal Code).  Whatever it’s called, it has become common in Kuala Lumpur. It is a more daring form of robbery. The victims are released quickly in exchange for relatively small sums. The stakes are much higher. To the victim or his relatives, they lose bigger sums than what’s normally found in a hand-bag.

For example, on Tuesday 16 July 2013, a 55 year old man was jogging in Kepong (an inner suburb of Kuala Lumpur city) when a number of robbers snatched him away. They drove off with him in his Toyota Camry. They later extracted $10,000 from his family in exchange for his safe release. School children of wealthy parents are more commonly targets. There was a highly publicised abduction of a foreigner’s son. It ended happily when the body-snatchers were paid a really large sum for the boy’s safe release.

Will things get more dramatic if people feel the need to arm themselves? Recently, a politically well-connected man produced a gun and shot at some robbers. Evidently he did that just in time as they were about to cut him up with their fearful parangs. Public reaction was sympathetic to him. This was even though he fired many shots. He killed one of the robbers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many ordinary people wished they too can arm themselves with guns.  

Two things are apparent. Firstly, the robbers seemed unafraid of being caught. Robberies can take place at any time. Many people are now living in fear of being the next victim [Philip Golingai,The star, 8 July 2013]. No place seems sacrosanct. Recently, a gang of robbers broke into the grand house of a high-ranking politician. Are these blatant robberies linked with public perception that the police force is the most corrupted institution? Secondly, the public gets a clear impression – crimes have really gone seriously worse in recent years. Yet according to crime statistics in the country, crime rates are going down. So who’s wrong? A retired statistician told me there are good reasons why Malaysian statistics are suspect. 

It’s no wonder Kuala Lumpur has become the world’s 6th most dangerous cities in the world.