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Family held captive for 24 hours, gold, cash looted

The building in Salalah, Oman, in which a three-member family was held captive for more than 24 hours, assaulted and robbed of their money and gold. (Picture courtesy K A Salahuddeen of 'Gulf Madhyamam' newspaper)

By V M Sathish

A sensational crime of forcible entry into a home, assault and confinement of a three-member family for more than 24 hours and armed robbery of their gold ornaments and money, has come to light from the town of Salalah in Oman’s Dhofar province.

The Indian family of a father, mother and son was overpowered and tied up by two strangers after they stormed into the house armed with knives and clubs. The family members were held ‘prisoners’ for one and a half days in their own home.

The family, hailing from Mala in Kerala’s Thrissur district, had been living in the Number 5 area of Salalah for the past two decades.

They are yet to recover from the shock of armed robbery last Wednesday morning by two strangers who used chloroform and knives and clubs to keep Vamadevan (51 years old) and his wife Shubha (45) and their 13- year-old son, a student of Indian High School in Salalah, under control. The duo had come to their home on the pretext of returning some money they had borrowed from a relative of the family. The victim runs a tailoring and textiles shop in Salalah town.

The Royal Oman Police on Friday arrested Sanal Kumar, one of the two robbers, who was trying to flee on an Air India Express flight to Kozhikode with the gold and money looted from the house. The second culprit reportedly fell to his death while trying to escape from the police.

Speaking to Emirates 24|7 about the family’s ‘house arrest’ and robbery, Sathyadevan, brother of the family’s head, said:  “A man rang the calling bell at around 8.30am on Wednesday after the family had sent their son to school. When the door was opened, two men forced their way into the house, beating my brother and his wife on their faces. They also tried to smear their faces with a chemical, apparently chloroform. They then took out a sword and threatened to kill both of them if they shouted. My brother’s wife was beaten with an iron rod and masking tape was wrapped around her mouth to keep her silent.

“They locked the house from inside, tied the couple to separate chairs and asked them to reveal where their money, gold ornaments and property documents were kept. They took their mobile phones, frantically searched the house for valuables and took whatever money and ornaments they found,” Sathyadevan said.

“Whenever the couple yelled, they were beaten. The robbers also tried to inject some medicines into their bodies to make them unconscious. Then they waited till noon for their son to return home from school.

“When he came home, he was also beaten up and tied to a chair. The armed duo forced the boy to phone me to say that he is not coming for the karate class and that he is busy preparing for school examinations and the family cannot entertain visitors at present.”

“Normally on Thursdays we go to my brother’s house but after receiving the phone call from his son, we decided not to go there,” said Sathyadevan.

The family’s neighbours and people living nearby did not come to know that the family was being held captive.

“They took my brother’s ATM cards, forced him to reveal the PIN numbers and went out of the house for two hours. They threatened to return and kill the couple if the PIN numbers were not correct. Using a bank card, they withdrew RO2,000 (about Dh20,000) from their account with Oman Arab Bank.

“They kept telling that they needed two more hours to reach some place before completing the operation,” Sathyadevan revealed.

“But one of the ATM cards got stuck in the machine while the robbers were trying to withdraw money. They came back to the house and asked Vamadevan whether he knew how to retrieve the card. In the meantime, they tried to inject some chemicals into the woman’s veins, apparently to keep her silent, because she had strongly resisted the robbers’ attempt to remove her gold necklace. Everything in the house was scattered around as a result of their frantic search for gold and money. Fortunately, the robbers did not see another ATM card in the house,” said Sathyadevan.

After keeping the family members tied up, they were drinking and eating in the house. They searched the house thoroughly and took some property deeds, gold ornaments and money. Since the family did not have a bank locker back home in Kerala, they had kept all their gold ornaments in the house. From the culprits’ conversation, the victims could infer that they had booked flight tickets and were planning to escape to India.  The airport was just ten minutes from the house. 

When the culprits went to the airport after the robbery, Vamadevan managed to release himself and contacted his brother who immediately alerted the police about one Sameer who was scheduled to fly to Kozhikode on Friday morning.

After arresting him, police reached the second culprit’s house. While trying to flee, he fell down from the building and died on the spot.

The family suspects that they were under surveillance for a few weeks before the crime was committed.

The family members were admitted to Sultan Qaboos Hospital. While the woman was under treatment for a couple of days, father and son were discharged earlier.

“This is the first time that such a case has been reported from Salalah. This is the first time that an Indian family was robbed after forcible entry into their home, with the culprits living there for more than 24 hours and planning their escape with the loot. Only a thorough investigation will show whether the duo were getting support from outside,” said KA Salahudeen, a social worker in Salalah.

Details of the deceased and arrested culprits are not fully known, but Indian community members said one of the robbers Sameer (32) used to live with his wife, a nurse, in Salalah.