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JEDDAH,Nov 18:  Despite efforts by authorities to fight crime, the incidence of cell-phone snatching hasn’t abated and may be on the rise.

The daily Al-Watan went to the streets of Jeddah to interview people who have become victims of snatching, be it cell phones, purses or other valuables.

“I had a brief case with a number of important papers and SR5,000, and I got robbed right on the street in daylight,” said a public sector employee who didn’t want to be named.

It seems thieves are adopting methods popular in European tourist resorts, utilizing a moped or motorcycle to whiz by and snatch items from pedestrians’ hands. Sometimes these snatchings can result in minor injuries as items with shoulder straps are pulled away from their owners at a high speed.

“I was walking in one of the public places in Jeddah, when two guys who looked like Africans snatched my bag violently,” said Salma, who described how she was dragged for a couple of meters before she was able to disengage from her purse strap. She is currently receiving treatment for a minor but painful neck injury.

Mona Ibrahim said she was crossing the road when she was hit violently and thrown on the ground by two men on a motorcycle. Mona was left unconscious and suffered from a broken hand and bruises.

Umm Saeed, a street vendor near one of the malls says, “These thieves didn’t have any mercy on me in spite of my old age. They wrenched away my bag, which contained money. No one was around to help me.”

Abdullah Al-Ghamdi said he is surprised at the boldness of the snatchers. “While I was shopping with my wife and my seven-year-old daughter a car passed by fast,” he said. “The passenger snatched my daughter’s bag right in front of me. I couldn’t react quickly enough. My daughter fell down and broke her hand.”

Osama said he would never forget the day SR4,000 was taken from his parked car in broad daylight.

“I went to one of the malls,” he said. “Coincidently, I parked near a police car. When I returned to my vehicle, the cop car was still there, but my window was smashed. They took my money and a relatively inexpensive cassette car stereo. It didn’t even have a CD player.”

Snatching is a relatively new phenomenon in the Kingdom, which has traditionally been known for a virtually no violent street crime or theft.

(One exception to this is that the history of the region is filled with stories of highwaymen targeting pilgrims, as well as noblemen attempting to earn ajer, or God’s pleasure, as reward for defending pilgrims from rogues.)

Even today, the level of opportunistic larceny and random violent street crime in Saudi cities is low in comparison to cities of the same size in other parts of the world. While accurate crime statistics are virtually impossible to come by in the Kingdom, almost all older Saudis will tell you that there has been a noticeable shift for the worse in terms of street crime.

Many attribute it to two things: immigration of the poor and uneducated from the developing world, especially East Africa, and a decline in moral values. Whether these are the root causes or not, experts agree that law enforcement must come to terms with the new realities.

Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jowayer, a professor in the Sociology Department at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University, says the first step to solving the problem is to recognize it.

“In order to solve a problem, we have to admit that it does exist,” he said.

“Then we should face it and handle it directly and transparently. The problem of stealing should be considered as a social epidemic, especially for women, because they carry purses. This problem is a not a product of unemployment, it is mainly due to the emptiness each thief feel deep within, the lack of parental discipline in childhood and peer pressure.”

Al-Jowayer said a combination of media and educational campaigns and increased vigilance on the part of police would help remedy the growing problem.

He thinks that street crime is more often perpetuated by undocumented migrants and visa overstayers.

Mohammad Al-Saedy, an Eastern Province police commander, agrees.

“The problem of illegal residents is a serious issue that we are working on,” he said. “During the first six months of this year we caught a large number of illegal residents and sent them to the Passport Department for deportation.”


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