Gangs shifting to quieter areas

KUALA LUMPUR - With their safe haven now under the police radar, gangs, most of which dabble in the illicit drug trade, are shifting their bases.

While many have chosen to lie low or escape to Thailand in the wake of Op Cantas, some that did not want to give up on the lucrative returns have shifted their operations.

Their new target areas are affluent neighbourhoods and quaint towns.

Police sources told the New Straits Times that some gangs that sensed the authorities were closing in on them had shifted their operations to areas that they felt were off the police radar.

Among the premises that they go for are quiet bungalow areas and guarded housing estates, as well as gated communities and posh condominiums with tight security.

Also a favourite are premises that have bungalows which are rented out on a weekly or monthly basis.

"However, it is just a matter of time before we catch up with them.

"While our intelligence is strong, we are also getting a lot of co-operation from the public," said a source.

They said those living in these housing areas could play their role in ensuring that the areas were free from the underworld and their operations.

Residents suspicious of their neighbours, especially new ones, could call the police and furnish them with details, including the number plates of the vehicles used, the sources added.

"We will take it from there. Areas where neighbourly ties are non-existent is especially enticing for these gangs.

"The public can play their role by alerting us if they have suspicions."

The sources said the gangs' drug distribution network had been adversely impacted by the ongoing Op Cantas.

They attributed this to the authorities' intense pressure on gangs, as well as round-the-clock roadblocks set up to weed out gang members.

It is learnt that under Op Cantas, all 155 district police forces have been directed to set up roadblocks where suspected gang members are checked for tattoos and other signs linking them to gangs.

Police are also ready to arrest gang members that are on the wanted list at the roadblocks.

Police raiding teams had, last week, made their move in several affluent housing areas, including an apartment in Bangsar, here, and a corner-lot house in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya.

A Browning pistol, 11 bullets and various drugs were seized from a 23-year-old man during the 3.30am raid at the unit in Jalan Tandok.

Fifteen packets and 22 tubes of heroin, six packets of cannabis, 134 Eramin 5 pills, 27 packets of syabu and 1.5 litres of cough mixture were found in a sling bag under a bed.

Police also found weapons, including a samurai sword, keris, parang and an "Armscor" 9mm pistol with 11 live bullets at the scene, as well as a black face mask in the suspect's car.

On Monday, police seized RM1.9 million (S$735,000) worth of drugs at a house in Ara Damansara and arrested 11 suspects, aged between 25 and 45, who were believed to have been using the house as a drug processing laboratory.

On Aug 19, police shot dead five "Gang 04" members at a service apartment in Pantai Jerejak.

The gang members were linked with at least 10 murders in Penang, Kedah and Negri Sembilan and were wanted for two attempted murder cases in Penang.

The sources said the arrest of a 50-year-old man in the quiet town of Naka, near Alor Star, yesterday was an example of the areas now preferred by the underworld.

Kedah police chief Datuk Ahmad Ibrahim said a team raided the house about 5am and seized three Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, three Colt M4 carbines, a home-made gun, a semi-automatic Beretta pistol and 11 empty magazines for various weapons.

Various types of bullets were also seized at the house, located some 40km from the state capital.

"In following up (on the operation), we picked up a 53-year-old suspect from Kuala Kedah."

The Op Cantas raid caused a stir in the Padang Terap district, with villagers expressing shock that the suspect, whom they claimed was a tom yam restaurant operator, was in possession of the weapons.

The suspect also owns a row of four unoccupied single-storey shoplots next to the premises.

The raid came two days after state police arrested a rubber tapper and his son, from Baling, for possessing five home-made air rifles.

To date, the state police have rounded up more than 260 suspected gang members under Op Cantas, which was launched two weeks ago.