Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Manila mall

Shoppers and staff run screaming from SM Mall of Asia as attempted jewellery heist leads to shootout with police.

Diners rush from a restaurant as an officer from the Philippines police moves towards the scene of an attempted robbery on a jewellery store inside SM Mall of Asia in Manila on March 30, 2014. Noel Celis / AFP
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MANILA // Robbers armed with guns and hammers shot it out with Philippine police inside one of the world’s largest shopping malls on Sunday, sending Manila shoppers scrambling for safety, police and witnesses said.

Waves of police commandos in bullet-proof vests and helmets and armed with assault rifles stormed the SM Mall of Asia after the gang entered a jeweller’s shop inside.

Hundreds of frightened shoppers, waiters and shop clerks fled amid gunfire toward the exits of the nearly four-hectare complex of department stores, boutiques, restaurants and entertainment establishments by Manila Bay.

“We were in the grocery when we heard gunshots. We ran for the door immediately and my wife nearly fell with our 10-month-old boy,” said Stacy Mercado, 32.

“The security guards initially blocked us, apparently because they feared some of us would steal items off the shelves on our way out.

“But they were swept aside after another burst of gunfire,” he said as he and his family watched the unfolding police operation in early evening from behind yellow police lines outside.

Several people were screaming or crying, including parents who said they had been separated from their children or other family members in the chaos.

Police said no one was seriously hurt in the firefight, and at least four armed suspects had been arrested.

The rest of the gang apparently escaped, they said.

“This is a common tactic. These robbers would go into a shop and start smashing the display cases with a hammer to grab things inside,” Erwin Villacorta, district police chief in southern Manila, told the local television station ABS-CBN.

Several other Manila shopping malls have been attacked in similar fashion in recent years, which led the interior ministry last December to ban Manila malls from selling hammers.

Opened in 2006, the Mall of Asia has 407,000 square metres of retail space, making it the country’s second largest, as well as one of the world’s largest, shopping destinations.

Mall of Asia is part of the SM Supermalls retail chain controlled by the family of Henry Sy, the Philippines’ richest man.

* Agence France Presse