NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) – Police investigating a bank robbery near Najaf in southern Iraq have recovered 1.3 million dollars of the 5.5 million stolen and made one arrest, a local official said on Saturday.
The theft on Thursday evening was the second major Iraqi heist this week, coming just two days after masked gunmen swooped on jewellers in Baghdad in a rampage that left nine dead, including a policeman and one of the assailants.
“We found 1.5 billion Iraqi dinars (1.3 million dollars) buried near the house of one of the criminals involved in the Meshkhab operation,” said Luay Yassiri, the head of Najaf provincial council’s security committee.
Yassiri added that police had arrested a man in connection with the robbery at state-owned Rafidain bank’s branch at Meshkhab, south of Najaf city, out of six suspected gang members who took part.
The robbery took place after one of the guards at the branch put sleep-inducing drugs into the other guards’ tea and let in the gang, who then entered the bank’s safe and took the money, Yassiri said.
The branch was apparently holding a large amount of cash to pay out salaries at the end of the month.
On Tuesday, gunmen robbed gold and jewellery shops along a street in southwest Baghdad and shot the owners and staff as well as a policeman, killing eight.
Crime has been on the rise as the level of the insurgency in Iraq has fallen off from its 2006 and 2007 highs. Security officials say insurgents may be carrying out such robberies to obtain much-needed income to fund operations.
Eight police guards were killed in another major bank heist in the Iraqi capital last July. The pre-dawn raid also on a branch of Al-Rafidain bank saw the robbers make off with 3.8 million dollars, but the sum was later recovered.
In Iraq’s biggest-ever hold-up, robbers stole 13.5 million dollars from a Rasheed Bank branch in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, in January 2005.