Police net suspects in deadly heist

BEIJING, Reuters

Mainland Chinese police have captured four men suspected of killing or wounding 12 people in a botched bank heist last week, newspapers said on Wednesday.

A massive manhunt also netted 10 people suspected of aiding the bandits, who sprayed bullets and mowed down pedestrians on Friday before escaping from the robbery empty-handed in the southern city of Changde, the Chutian Dushi Bao reported.

A local journalist said police were closing in on a fifth person believed to have organized the crime.

More than 1,300 officers were dispatched to hunt down the assailants, whom officers linked to a string of sensational armed robberies that have left citizens and police in shock.

The first suspect, 27-year-old Zhao Zhenghong, was caught in the nearby city of Yiyang on Tuesday, the Guangzhou Daily said. Suspected accomplices Li Jisheng, Li Jiwu and Li Chenglong were apprehended soon after in Changde.

Police said the men confessed to the robbery in Changde, in which seven were killed and five injured, as well as deadly attacks in Wuhan, Chongqing and Changsha, according to the newspaper.

Another suspect, former marine Li Tiejun, was captured with a stash of guns, said the journalist, who requested anonymity.

Police have been tight-lipped about the case, in which four gunmen wearing masks tried to intercept a cash transfer between an armored car and a branch of the Agricultural Bank of China.

Police and forensic experts from around mainland China rushed to Changde after the bloodbath, drawn by similarities with other robberies — including the caliber of guns used and the assailants’ penchant for aiming at victims’ temples.

Most major state news organizations have ignored the story, reflecting reluctance by Chinese officials to report on crimes before they are solved.

But readers have followed the story closely on the Internet, where chatrooms are buzzing with comments from people shocked by the crime in a country where gun violence is rare.

Highlighting the sense of vulnerability to violent crime, a person who claimed to be a police officer wrote on a bulletin board at www.sina.com.cn:

“Our communications devices are children’s toys bought at a Japanese market; Our investigative equipment is 10-year-old outdated stuff from Hong Kong.

“Our cars couldn’t catch up to a motorcycle, and our bulletproof jackets are oversized, heavy, made-in-China junk that couldn’t stop a round at 20 meters!”