Violent attacks in east Algarve 

By RUTH SHARPE

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A SERIES of violent break-ins has left residents in Faro and Olhão living in fear.

At least five attacks have taken place on couples living in remote areas, involving groups of Eastern European men. The first incident happened in May at the house of an Irish couple from Santa Bárbara de Nexe. At 10.30pm, three men in balaclavas entered the house, while a further two kept vigil outside. Upon entering, the men began beating the house owner with a torch and then attacked his wife when she attempted to protect him.

After locating their credit cards the intruders demanded PIN numbers before binding and tying the couple with duct tape. Forty-five minutes later, after searching the house and taking what they could, the men left on foot.

Managing to free themselves, the couple called the police and were taken to hospital. The attackers tried to use the cards within an hour in of the break-in at a cash point in Almancil, but as the husband had given false PIN numbers the cards were lost in the machine.

Masked men

The next reported incident took place on September 18, at the Vista Elite resort between Estoi and Moncarapacho. At 9pm, the English couple were sat in their lounge when a masked man appeared at a glass door that opened into the room. Before the husband could react, three masked men broke into the room and began hitting him with a crowbar. His wife tried to protect him, but the men punched her in the face. Two men continued to attack the couple while the other began ransacking the house. Speaking in broken English, the men demanded PIN numbers and money and stripped them both of their jewellery. The men then taped the woman up and locked her in a bathroom.

The husband was tied on the sofa until the intruders finished ransacking the house. The men then took him to another bathroom and left him locked in the dark. After returning to gag the woman, they went around house unplugging all the electrical items, locking windows, doors and shutters, making the house looked completely deserted.

The woman managed to escape her ties and climbed out of a window and broke back into the house. Hearing her husband in the bathroom, she slipped a screwdriver through to him so he could break out. Due to the nature in which the couple were left the police will be charging the attackers with attempted murder when found. Footprints were found by the front gate revealing that the intruders were on foot, but it’s likely they had a car parked nearby. They managed to take 1,100 euros out of the accounts before the cards were cancelled.

A few weeks prior to this incident, some suspicious men had been to the same house, posing as salesmen. One of the men has since been identified as one of the intruders and the leader of the gang that the police believe is behind the attacks.  The third and most recent incident took place at 10pm on November 20, and involved another English couple, who lived a mile away from the previous attack.

After having friends round for dinner, the husband went outside to take out the rubbish when he was attacked by four men armed with crowbars. The man was dragged back into the house to the horror of his wife, who was returning into the room.

Aware that the men may attack her, she didn’t react and was pushed into a chair where a knife was laid on her arm while the attackers made threats and demands. They then put the husband in a separate room, covered his head and put a knife to his throat, demanding his PIN numbers. After initially telling them the wrong numbers the man decided to reveal the correct ones realising they could come back and torture them further. Armed with their cards and PIN numbers, two thieves left in a car leaving the other two guarding the couple.

The men helped themselves to food and wine while piling up goods ready to take away in their car. Despite having a crowbar waved in her face, the wife tried to communicate with the attackers. At one point, when her husband began shaking due to the wet material still covering his head, she convinced the thieves to get him a blanket.

The woman had heard about previous incidents of this nature and decided something had to be done or her and her husband could be left in fatal circumstances. She asked to go to the toilet where she began to be sick. The men stood outside asking regularly if she was ok. The woman then slashed the netting that covered the bathroom window and managed to escape. Soon after, the men couldn’t hear anything and went in pursuit. Her husband, who could hear what was unfolding, decided to make a move and ran out to the garden.

Escape

As his wife was running down the gravel drive, the car with the other two attackers was returning. She managed to hide and get to a main road where she flagged down a car which took her to the police in Moncarapacho. While the men were distracted, her husband managed to set off the house alarm system.

Shortly after, armed police arrived but the intruders had already gone. They managed to get away with a computer, perfume, jewellery and smaller items. They took 3,000 euros from their accounts before the cards were cancelled. Two further incidents took place in November, involving groups of men using intimidation tactics and gratuitous violence on English speaking couples, which police believe are linked to the other attacks.

What has made the situation even worse for the victims of these brutal attacks is the reaction they have had from their banks. In two of the incidents, thieves got away with 1,100 and 3,000 euros respectively from their accounts, money which the bank will not return to them.

The bank’s reasoning behind this is that because the victims gave out their PIN number it is not their responsibility – the fact that their clients were held at knifepoint to get this information does not seem to be an important fact for Banco Santander Totta, the bank responsible for both couples affected.

In one case, the thieves made 25 transactions in two hours. The victims are astonished that there is no form of security system in place that recognises suspicious card use.

For these people Totta are just as much of a villain as the men who broke into their homes. One of the men affected vented his anger saying “my money would have been safer in a plant pot in my garden than it is in the bank of Totta.”

The victims have now installed new fencing, security systems and bought in guard dogs in order to ease the constant sense of fear they feel in their own home.

Moncarapacho GNR are insistent that they are moving forward with the cases and are on the brink of making some arrests. They believe the men are a gang of Romanians or possibly Ukrainians, who have a permanent base in the Algarve, but are currently out of the region.

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