Blue Route Mall – A gang of seven to nine men wearing construction overalls and wielding rifles and sledgehammers, smashed their way into a jewellery store in the Blue Route Mall in front of stunned shoppers shortly before noon on Sunday.

Fearing for their lives, shoppers and staff ran or crawled to safety, some hiding inside storerooms as several of the armed men used the sledgehammers to break display cabinets at Harris & D’arcy jewellers.

The suspects fled in a silver Mercedes-Benz, a white Audi A4 and silver Golf 6.

Police cordoned off the scene as they combed through shattered glass in front of the ground-level store on Sunday.

A floor above, shoppers captured the scene on their cellphones while others looked on.

The mall was bustling with shoppers after the incident, with many shops remaining open.

A clothing shop staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, said he saw five to six men in construction overalls.

“I was helping a customer when I saw a guy come out of the jewellery shop smashing a window with a sledgehammer.

“One guy was carrying a rifle. They didn’t care if anyone saw them.”

As he recounted the events, the young man sat on a chair, visibly shaken. “I’m still shaking. It wasn’t nice to close our shop and see customers crawl to the back of the store with their tiny baby and hide away.

“Everything happened so quickly. We closed our shop and gathered all our customers inside a back room.”

He added that mall management threatened to fine any store that closed its doors for the day.

“Mall management want us to remain open and said we would be fined if we closed.

“What is more important, peoples’ life or keeping the shop open?

“Staff do not feel safe inside the mall and we can’t enjoy working here any longer.”

Staff from a different jewellery shop said they were afraid they could be targeted next.

“I was on my way to the bank when I heard loud banging. Before I turned towards the bank I saw people running towards me, the security guard was running too – that’s how I knew something must be drastically wrong.”

The mother of two said she entered the bank and was locked inside with other customers for 15 to 20 minutes.

“I am looking for another job, I can’t work here anymore. I have two children to take care of. I am so scared and paranoid all the time.”

A woman working on the first floor said she heard loud banging and thought something had fallen.

“After that I heard two more bangs – they were smashing glass to get to the jewellery. I turned to my friend and we closed the store and took our customers to a back room for safety.”

It was the second time the jewellery shop had been targeted.

“They robbed the place for the second time and a few weeks ago, on December 26, Sports Scene was also robbed for the second time.

“It’s starting to feel uncomfortable, security can’t protect us. I still feel scared because they can come back at any time.”

Last September, the Altech Autopage Cellular store was robbed of more than 150 cellphones – worth about R600 000 – when customers and staff were held up at gunpoint.

Maurice Cloete, a shopper who arrived at the mall after the incident on Sunday, said mall robberies were becoming unavoidable. He said the shopkeepers were “sitting ducks”, and added that everyone had a right to be protected.

“I don’t feel that security is trained to deal with this, especially if robbers are operating with AK-47s.

“People don’t know when it’s safe to shop, something drastic must be done.”

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andrè Traut said between seven and nine armed suspects entered the store at 11.50am on Sunday.

“No shots were fired, however they smashed display cabinets with hammers, which could have been mistaken for shots.”

No arrests had yet been made.

Mall management declined to comment on Sunday.

In a separate incident, last Tuesday, a jewellery shop on Main Road in Kalk Bay was robbed of an undisclosed amount of jewellery.

Traut said three suspects fled with jewellery and watches.

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