Horror stalks Ho Chi Minh City

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Ho Chi Minh City police officers arresting a mugger last September. The city police have beefed up street patrols to combat the rising number of heinous attacks.

The first time two robbers on a motorbike slashed her right arm with a giant hatchet, 28-year-old Nguyen Thi Ngoc Thuy tried to keep driving her scooter as she screamed.

"They said: "˜How dare you shout?'"”and then they hacked my wrist again," Thuy said, reliving her horrific November 24 experience that took place around 8 p.m. on Phu My Bridge, which connects districts 2 and 7 in Ho Chi Minh City.

When Thuy crashed, her right hand was dangling precariously from her arm by a piece of skin. She held it with her other hand as she ran away terror-stricken and crying for help.

"Two other men approached, asking me if I'd been robbed, and then suddenly snatched my handbag and fled," she said from her bed at the city's Hospital of Traumatology and Orthotics.

The four robbers failed to start Thuy's Honda SH motorbike and only managed to steal the woman's purse, nearly amputating her hand in the process. Passerby Dang Van No took Thuy to the hospital.

Given what had happened, Thuy was fortunate.

Doctors from the Hospital of Traumatology and Orthotics said Tuesday that they had successfully reconnected her hand and that she is recovering well. She has already regained some control of her hand since undergoing surgery and doctors expect her to heal completely.

Not surprisingly, the case has grabbed headlines all over the nation, evoking fear and anger among the public.

"Being uneducated and unemployed are wrong ways to explain their brutality. It's because they are too lazy to work. I hope authorities will take strict measures against their inhuman acts," Le Quoc Dat wrote to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Another reader, Hieu, said he was always somewhat afraid carrying his laptop from HCMC to Binh Duong.

"Now I have another fear, that my life can be robbed too. It's terrible."

Thanh Nien reader Le Van Dang wanted the robbers to be executed. "They should be charged with murder besides robbery and should face the highest punishment to deter similar crimes," he wrote.

Serial muggers

A police source told Vietweek that plainclothes police had been following the robbers at the time Thuy's attack happened, but because they were maintaining a distance and the crime happened so fast, they were unable to
stop it.

As several residents tended to the victim, police followed the thugs, catching up with them as they were renting rooms at the Song Linh Hotel in Binh Chanh District.

They arrested Ho Duy Truc, 19, Nguyen Hoang Phuong, 19, Tran Van Luong, 24 and Huynh Thanh Son, 30.

Preliminary investigations determined that Luong was the gang's kingpin, while it was Truc who did the savage slashing.

The gang confessed to 17 robberies over the past four months in HCMC.

On November 27, District 2 police said they have also arrested Huynh Bao Anh, Cao Danh Hung and Doan Van Vo, who are accused of using property stolen by Luong's band of thugs.

Police said the gang was involved in two other vicious robberies on November 4 on Le Van Luong Street in Nha Be District.

At around 8 p.m. that day, Nguyen Huy Truong was driving his Honda SH near Cong Dinh Bridge when he was slashed across the back and shoulder. Truong managed to escape with the key to his motorbike.

Less than half an hour later, just 200 meters away, Luong's thugs attacked Nguyen Thanh Hoang and Nguyen Thi Anh Thu, stealing Thu's motorbike and Hoang's cell phone.

Police said the brazen criminals are methamphetamine users, and take the drug before each robbery, which they now blame for the heinousness of their crimes.

However, after arresting the gang of four, police found a gun, nine bullets, several falchion swords, tasers, knives, hatchets and eight stolen motorbikes during a search of their house in Tan Phu District, suggesting these are not drug users acting in desperation but cold-blooded criminals.

Intensified patrols

The bust of Luong's gang was part of a campaign launched by the HCMC Police Department on November 23 with more patrols aimed at stopping muggings, which have been taking place with greater frequency recently, and have also been increasingly horrendous.

Forty robberies were busted and 47 people were arrested within the first five days of the campaign, Lieutenant-colonel Vu Nhu Ha of the HCMC Police Department said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

He said his department has assigned officers from different branches to help patrol the streets, especially those in outlying districts and near tourist destinations.

"The police will inspect hotels suspected of being frequented by criminals," he said.

He also warned: "The robberies are likely to increase as the New Year approaches."

Ha advised people to be cautious, especially when driving on highways and outskirt areas at night.

At the briefing, Ha said he cannot explain why the criminals are getting younger and more brutal. He suggested that all concerned agencies carry out a comprehensive study to find out the roots of the problem.

According to the city police, 4,350 crimes have been committed so far this year, 3,177 of which they have solved.

Seeking solutions

Truong Lam Danh, deputy head of the legal division at the HCMC People's Council the city legislature said he will raise the issue of violent street muggings at the coming session of the legislative body on December 4.

"Due to economic difficulties, many small and medium-sized enterprises have laid off employees or closed down, leading to a rising number of unemployed people," he told the Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper, adding that the unemployment has become worse due to an increase in the inflow of rural migrants to the city.

He also cited "unhealthy cultural products," such as violent movies and video games, as partially responsible for the rising crime rate.

"Many criminals are young. They want to have money to feed their leisure spending and therefore form roaming gangs of thieves."

Ha also said there should be a study to find out how many drug addicts discharged from rehabilitation centers have been involved in the recent rash of robberies.

"There should be more jobs. Finding a job has become difficult for normal people. It is far more difficult for rehabilitated drug addicts," he added.

Thanh said all concerned agencies should cooperate with the public and act to prevent crimes, instead of just arresting the guilty parties after they have already inflicted irreversible damage.

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