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Cablegate: Crime in Luanda: From Bad to Worse

P 240647Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY LUANDA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5232
INFO SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY

UNCLAS LUANDA 001006


FOR DS/TIA/ITA, DS/DSS/OSAC, DS/IP/AF AND INL
GABORONE FOR RSO AND ILEA
PRETORIA FOR RSO, ESC AND HQ, MCESG REGION 6

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC KCRM AO
SUBJECT: CRIME IN LUANDA: FROM BAD TO WORSE

1. Summary: Brazen and violent crimes targeting Westerners have
shaken Luanda's international community. Perpetually gridlocked
streets make the targets easy pickings for gangs of robbers who have
ratcheted up their aggressiveness in attacking vulnerable
individuals stuck in traffic. Angolan police are locked in a
reactive mentality that leaves the initiative to the criminals, who
take full advantage of the opportunities. Increasingly, violent
crime is occurring near the Embassy and residential areas where
Embassy staff lives, including one fusillade audible in the
Ambassador's office. In light of the increasing volume and
proximity of violent crime in Luanda, Post urges DS to validate a
"CRITICAL" crime threat rating for Luanda. End summary.

2. Luanda is a city designed in colonial times to house about a
half-million inhabitants, but now more than ten times that number
reside here. Such overcrowding enables criminal gangs to roam freely
both in daytime and at night, moving with ease from slum shantytowns
(that seem to fill every available piece of ground) to commit street
and property crimes in more affluent neighborhoods located nearby.

--------------------------------------------
Embassy Neighborhood: A Critical Crime Area
--------------------------------------------

3. Three incidents within walking distance of the Embassy on one
single day - December 4 - make clear that the dangers to the Mission
are real. On that day a Portuguese diplomat was assaulted while
driving his CD-plated personal vehicle along the Serpentine, a
notoriously crime-infested road located immediately in front of the
Embassy. This road, which also connects to some of the city's worst
slums, is the primary access street to the central business district
from the Miramar neighborhood - a relatively upscale area that is
home to the U.S. Embassy, the EMR and DCR, plus fifteen other staff
residences. While gridlocked in traffic, the diplomat's car was
surrounded by four to five youths, who demanded he roll down his
window or they would shoot. (One of them had his hand in his pocket
as if he was concealing a sidearm.) The diplomat complied with their
demands and gave up his cell phone, but told them he had no cash.
They became more insistent and agitated, until, at a signal from one
of the youths (evidently a lookout), they suddenly dispersed.

4. On the same day and along the same road, a U.K. national and
former policeman, now employed by a multinational firm, was driving
to work in the morning and was stuck in gridlocked traffic. In front
of his car, an SUV was being driven by an Angolan woman. A youth
walked up to the rear passenger door and spotted the woman's purse
on the back seat. He broke the small window in the door, unlocked
it, and tried to snatch the purse. He pulled out a knife and
struggled with the woman to take the purse. Frustrated, he reached
in front and opened the front passenger door. He then entered
through the front door with the knife and the woman gave her bag to
the assailant. He started to walk away with the purse when the
driver of another car, who had observed the incident, exited his
vehicle to confront the robber. The thief pointed the knife at the
driver, who then pulled out a sidearm from underneath the floor mat
in his vehicle and shot at the thief as he jumped over the side of
the road, down the hill and into the trees. It is not known if the
thief was hit by the gunshot, but he did get away. After the shot
was fired, the man returned to his car, placed the firearm back
under the floor mat, calmly got back behind the wheel of his vehicle
and continued on his way.

5. Finally, on the morning of the same day, post's surveillance
detection team observed two Angolan men on a motor scooter who
(according to a witness) were in pursuit of an Angolan woman reputed
to be carrying a sum of cash on her person. The robbers caught up
with their quarry in front of the large municipal cemetery located
to the immediate south of the U.S. Embassy compound. At that moment,
an undercover police unit was deployed on the scene and fired its
weapons at the robbers. The robbers were not struck by any of the
police gunfire and managed to make a clean getaway. Not so
fortunate, however, were three other vehicles hit and damaged in the
crossfire, as was a municipal employee - a street sweeper shot in
the leg by a police bullet. He was evacuated to the hospital. This
incident illustrates that, despite recent efforts made to improve
professionalism, training, ethics, and responsiveness, the police
services have not yet embraced "community policing" methods of law
enforcement. Indeed, at least some of the tactical training provided
in country to rank-and-file police personnel (reportedly by Israeli
instructors on contract) may have served to increase the threat to
innocent bystanders.

--------------------------------------------
The Criminals: Bold, Well-Armed, and Mobile
--------------------------------------------

6. Angolans, themselves, express shock and dismay at the
aggressiveness of criminals in Luanda, who are becoming bolder and
less deterred by risk of confrontation when committing street and
property crimes. A frightening example of this occurred on October
13, when a 47-year old Angolan driver employed by a USAID contractor
organization was shot while picking up an Angolan staff colleague
who was scheduled to fly from Luanda to Huambo. The driver reached
the staffer's home in the Kilamba Kiaxi area in time to pick her up
and take her to the airport for check-in at 04:00 Hrs. The driver
sounded the horn outside the house, and the staffer emerged and
asked him to come inside as she needed more time to finish packing
for the trip. As the driver locked the doors of the vehicle, he was
surprised by a lone man pointing a Kalashnikov rifle at him from
behind. When the driver turned to see who it was and ask what he
wanted, the gunman fired the weapon, striking the driver just below
the armpit and sending him into shock. After a few minutes, he
revived and was able to bang on the front door of the staffer, who
had heard the gunshot and locked the doors to protect her family in
the house. Fearing the gunman was still outside, she did not open
the door until her neighbors, responding to the commotion, came to
the driver's aid. By this time, the gunman had already fled, and the
driver was helped into his vehicle by the neighbors and the staffer,
who drove him to the hospital where his condition was stabilized.

7. Despite government amnesties and incentives to encourage the
population to surrender unregistered weapons, criminals have little
difficulty obtaining military grade firepower and still less
hesitation about using it. On 26 November, a male expatriate staffer
was driving an NGO-owned vehicle back to the organization's offices
in Luanda with four NGO staff passengers (including one female
AmCIT). While moving through part of the city outskirts called
Kilometer-Nine, the NGO vehicle was overtaken by a Toyota RAV4 that
stopped directly in front of them, blocking the way. Five gunmen
exited the RAV4, all armed with sidearms and/or automatic rifles.
They ordered the NGO staff out of the vehicle at gunpoint, took
their valuables and belongings, and then seized the NGO vehicle. The
carjackers drove off with the stolen vehicle, leaving the victims
badly shaken and stranded but unhurt. Estimated depreciated value of
the property stolen was over 17,000 dollars, including one NGO owned
(and marked) Toyota Hilux 4WD vehicle, several cellphones, a laptop
computer, and various cash, documents, and belongings, including a
valid U.S. passport. Police were notified but, to date, no property
has been recovered nor have any known useful leads been developed.

8. Criminals usually operate in groups of two to four individuals;
increasingly, they are confrontational and sometimes gratuitously
violent. On November 22, an FSN employee of the U.S. Embassy had
just finished working the 08:00 to 15:00 shift as Duty Driver. While
on his way home in a van-taxi (the most common form of public
transport in Luanda), he stopped to change to another van-taxi in
the vicinity of Roque Santeiro, a crime-ridden open-air market.
Suddenly, he was surprised by six unknown men, one of whom pointed a
sidearm at him while his accomplices searched the employee's pockets
and robbed him of two cellphones (one of which was Embassy property)
as well as approximately USD 40.00 in local currency. Like many
Angolans in similar circumstances, the employee reported the crime
to his employer (the U.S. Embassy), but avoided making any kind of
report to the local police, believing such an effort to be, at best,
a waste of time.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Police: Hidebound, Flat-Footed, and Ineffective
--------------------------------------------- ---

9. Although authorities have made efforts to put more police on the
streets with improved salaries and equipment, they are still locked
in a reactive posture and bureaucratic mindset that leaves the
initiative with the criminals. As a result, police are ineffective
in deterring or disrupting crimes and are seldom able to apprehend
suspects. On 19 November, a Portuguese national businessman had just
collected a large amount of money from a bank in the downtown
central business district (less than 2km from the U.S. Embassy). As
he got into his vehicle to depart, he was surprised by an armed man
banging on the window, while the getaway driver on a motor scooter
drove up and also pointed a sidearm at his window. The victim
resisted and two shots were fired, one of which struck his leg and
second that grazed his scalp. The victim's Angolan driver threw out
the bag containing the money that the victim had just drawn from the
bank (reportedly USD 13,000), and the robbers picked it up and sped
away from the scene on the scooter. Most noteworthy is that this
incident occurred near Kinaxixi circle, one of the areas with the
city's heaviest police presence. However, Angolan police persist in
favoring static uniformed posts that are all but useless in
countering the robbers' typical and usually successful tactics of
using motor scooters to maximize their speed, surprise, and
mobility.

10. COMMENT: The incident described in para 5 above was close
enough to the U.S. Embassy compound that both Ambassador and DCM
heard the gunfire in their offices. That such a fusillade can take
place in an area that literally dozens of embassy employees and
families must pass through on a daily basis is testimony of the
prevalence of both firearms and crime in the city. Angolans and
expats alike confront this crime and it shows no sign of abating.
Earlier this year DS made a determination to lower Luanda's crime
threat rating from 'Critical' to 'High'. RSO has made a concerted
effort to improve the quality and timeliness of incident reporting
and hopes that it validates the finding (shared by the post EAC)
that a 'Critical' crime threat is the only appropriate rating for
Luanda. END COMMENT.

MOZENA

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