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Dubai gang accused of burying rivals alive

Ringleader allegedly said his gang wanted to teach its competitors in the illegal alcohol trade 'a lesson that they will never forget'.

DUBAI // A heavily armed gang of alcohol bootleggers kidnapped two members of a rival gang, tortured them, sexually assaulted them and buried them alive, a court heard yesterday. The 13 gang members appeared at Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance yesterday morning charged with two counts of murder, kidnapping and hiding bodies. Five of the men are also charged with sexual assault, and 10 with consumption of alcohol.

All 13 denied the charges, but could face the death penalty if convicted. Local authorities, police and private security firms have fought for years to eliminate gangs who illegally sell alcohol and other contraband in and around labour camps. The court heard how the gang of 12 Indians and one Pakistani allegedly kidnapped Abu Baker Nujila and another man who has not been identified and assaulted them with metal bars, pipes, sticks, swords, machetes and knives on January 1 2009.

Five of the men are alleged to have raped the victims before the whole gang buried them in sand-covered graves. The defendants were arrested, according to prosecution records, on January 25 2009, after information came to light that the men's bodies had been found buried in Jebel Ali. "Our investigations led us to the first defendant who was found in Jebel Ali with the rest of the gang members," said the investigating officer, Mohammed al Badi.

A police team searched the Jebel Ali Industrial Area until it found the gang, still allegedly wielding swords, machetes and pipes. When interrogated, the men said they were carrying the weapons for self-defence against rival gangs in the area. Prosecutors claim MJ, 24, was the ringleader who coerced the rest of the gang into their brutal, premeditated attack on their rivals. Although denying the charges against him, MJ told investigating officers that cut-throat competition for sales between alcohol bootleggers in the area left his gang no choice but to take up arms to protect their "turf".

He allegedly admitted to sending people to "warn off" competition from straying into his territory a number of times. MJ, who worked as a mason, allegedly told arresting officers that the two victims had persisted in selling alcohol in his area, and that his gang had wanted to "teach them a lesson that they will never forget". Prosecution documents quote him as saying: "In alcohol sales, everything happens."

The gang is alleged to have forced their victims into a minivan, driven them to an isolated area in Jebel Ali and carried out the assault. A forensic report said the victims had been savagely beaten with "hard and sharp objects", but both choked to death after being buried in the sand. MJ along with BK, RS, AS and MS, are accused of raping them while the other members of the gang were digging shallow graves.

Prosecutors also charged MS with illegal possession of alcohol; he allegedly was discovered to have 71 cans of beer and seven bottles of various types of alcohol. The defendants will appear in court next month, once a lawyer has been assigned them. Their case will be heard by the same panel of judges that sentenced two Indian men to death in January for the murder of a Pakistani man. Turf fights between rival groups are not uncommon. In March 2008, at least 30 people were injured in violent clashes sparked by such a dispute in the Jebel Ali Industrial Area.

A Crime Investigation Department officer, who did not give his name, said yesterday that bootleg gangs were often run by a "strong-willed" leader who coerced others into joining. * The National, with additional reporting by Praveen Menon

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