Some violent Caribbean bandits believed still at large

A.M. Costa Rica graphic
Key points in rampage by bandits

A violent crime wave has spread fear along the Caribbean coast. Even though Fuerza Pública officers detained two suspects in a fatal stickup, the bulk of a gang continues at large.

Gunmen late Friday stuck up five persons in a living quarter attached to a small store in Las Delicias, Panamá, just across the border from Costa Rica. The ensuing shootout fatally injured a 17-year-old girl, who died later at the clinic in Hone Creek, Costa Rica.

Fuerza Pública officers near the border captured two men a short time later.

Officials linked the Panamá stickup to one early Thursday at the well-known Hotel Samasití in Hone Creek on the Caribbean coast near Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. In the case of the Samasití the victims included 18 tourists, mostly U.S. and Canadians. They were ordered from their rooms and held hostage for an hour while crooks sacked the hotel rooms.

Investigators also disclosed the robbery of a Canadian family, tourists, at the Congo Bongo complex in Manzanillo Thursday evening about 10 p.m. The two Canadians and their son were confronted by at least five men wearing masks and carrying firearms. Taken were cameras and cash, investigators said.

The dead girl from Panamá was identified by the Judicial Investigating Organization here as Ayad Said Alsur. She was the daughter of the owners of the store and was with her mother and other family members when intruders barged in to rob them early Friday. Investigators said that a son grabbed a firearm to oppose the bandits, and a shootout ensued.

Others in the family suffered wounds, too, although not as serious. The wounded family members carried the girl across the nearby Río Sixaola by boat where a Costa Rican ambulance took them to the clinic.

Reports from the Caribbean coasts list a series of robberies and home burglaries that may also be linked to this gang. However, the reports are informal.

A property owner said via email from the United States that the entire Puerto Viejo area is under siege. For the last six months there has been an unprecedented wave of armed and violent invasions. She said that the crimes were deliberate

acts of organized gang terrorism and seem to be being swept under the rug by the system here. She said both her properties in Playa Chiquita were scenes of violent robberies in the last six months.

In one case, three gunmen invaded her lodge and knocked the caretaker senseless, she said, adding that then the bandits systematically looted the place.

The Caribbean beaches are one of Costa Rica’s finest treasures and are just now coming in to their own as a top destination, she said, adding that the winter tourist numbers are down in the area as word of the violence spreads around the world.

The two suspects were detained in Bratsi, Talamanca, Limón after a police chase. Officers said they found plenty of evidence that linked the suspects to the fatal robbery. There was a handbag belonging to the dead girl and even a billfold with photos of the family of victims, they said.

In addition, officers said they found a .38 pistol that had the serial number obscured and several types of ammunition.

They identified the suspects by the last names of Astorga Saravia and Sarahi Astorga

Prosecutors in Bribri are in charge of the cross-border case.

Early reports from Panamá, relayed through law enforcement here, said that other members of the gang had been captured. That appears to be untrue, as police in Panamá are continuing to search mountainous areas. The bandits are believed to be Costa Ricans from the Talamanca area in southeast Costa Rica along the Caribbean coast. The border is porous there, and the crooks seem to be able to cross at will.

Residents fear they continue to be a threat.

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