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All Equity evacuees freed, police now say suspects used ‘strong teargas to unsettle us’

NATIONAL
By Harold Odhiambo | November 24th 2021

Police surrounded Equity Angawa Avenue branch at 11:30am on November 23, 2021 after it was reported that the facility had been raided by robbers. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Police now say all the 20 people evacuated from Equity Bank, Angawa Avenue branch in Kisumu, on Tuesday were genuine clients and employees.

Nyanza Regional Commissioner Magu Mutindika has told The Standard it’s clear now that the suspects escaped during the shootout, and not during evacuation.

On Tuesday, November 23, the administrator said the suspects disguised as clients and left the facility during evacuation of employees and clients.

Mutindika said the 20 evacuees, who were taken to Central Police Station, would be subjected to interrogation to ascertain their motive in the banking hall.

And now, he says, after a thorough examination that ended in the evening, authorities can confidently state that all the 20 evacuees were genuine clients and staff members, sparking questions on how the four armed suspects managed to escape from a crime scene surrounded by at least 30 uniformed police officers.

Mutindika termed the suspects as “intellectually smart”, as they “used very strong teargas to unsettle police, who had surrounded the building”.

“They took advantage of the confusion caused by the melee to escape,” said Mutindika.

At 3pm on Tuesday, police ended a three-and-a-half-hour siege at Equity Bank on Angawa Avenue after efforts to smoke out suspected robbers returned negative results.

In an interview, immediately after the operation was closed, police said the suspects might have disguised as clients and left the premises minutes to 1pm.

“We have in our possession a man’s shirt. We suspect that the robbers had a change of clothes and left the banking hall during the evacuation of distressed clients,” Nyanza Regional Commissioner Magu Mutindika told The Standard.

All the clients and Equity Bank staff members evacuated from the besieged building were taken to Central Police Station for interrogation.

“We’re hoping to identify the owner of the shirt, who would, in turn, lead us to his other three accomplices,” said Mutindika.

The regional commissioner said the immediate investigations “will be conducted in a fair and thorough manner”.

“We wouldn’t want to implicate innocent people,” said Mutindika.

Police said they’d rely on witness statements, CCTV recordings, among other documents, to identify the suspects.

Timeline

At 11am, four armed robbers gained entry into Equity Bank, Angawa Avenue branch in Kisumu.

Upon accessing the banking hall, one of the suspects wrote a note and handed it over to one of the tellers, said Mutindika.

“In the note, he said: ‘count Sh100,000 and give it to me, failure to which, I will kill you’,” said the regional commissioner.

Shortly thereafter, the suspected robbers threw a teargas canister on the floor, forcing some of the clients and staff members to flee.

Consequently, eyewitnesses filed a suspected robbery report minutes to 11:30am.

At 11:30am, the first contingent of police officers arrived in four vehicles, followed by Nyanza Regional Police Commander, Karanja Muiruri, a few minutes later.

At noon, more police officers were deployed to the scene, with the total number of officers in operation rising to 30.

Around that time, Angawa Avenue was cordoned off and police declared it an active crime scene.

A firefighting vehicle was brought to the scene to help neutralise the effect of the teargas that the suspected robbers were “hurling while still holed up in the hall”.

At 12:30pm, police termed the operation as “delicate”, saying firing at the suspected robbers could risk the lives of clients and staff members locked up in the hall.

Police further said that the suspected robbers were fighting back by firing teargas canisters and live bullets.

At 12:45pm, police said they suspected some of the robbers were hiding inside the bank’s toilet as clients and employees were being evacuated.

At 12:50pm, police said they were waiting to be given the bank’s architectural plan before they could lay an ambush.

At 1pm, authorities gained access into the bank's ground and first floors.

Several armed cops in uniform could be seen entering the premises through windows and rudimentary openings in the building.

After a thorough two-hour combing of the scene, police announced at 3pm that they had ended the siege after ensuring that no suspect was in any of the rooms inside the bank.

No person was injured during the incident, police said.

Equity Bank, in a statement posted on Twitter, said no money had been stolen, and that all its employees were safe.

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