RAS AL KHAIMAH // Customers and shopkeepers watched in alarm as two armed hostage-takers exchanged shots with police in a jewellery store raid on Sunday. Uniformed police then descended on the busy gold souq district, cordoning off roads and evacuating members of the public. Overhead police helicopters offered support. What horrified onlookers did not realise, however, was that the unfolding drama was an elaborate police exercise. The hostage-takers were in fact officers in disguise and the shots being fired were blanks.
While the mock hostages and shopkeeper had been informed, visitors, residents and nearby merchants were not. Nor were the hundreds of people who flocked to the edge of the cordon to see what was happening. "I heard helicopters and sirens and my brother came to get me. I went outside and saw a huge crowd. Everyone was there," said Ali Azhar, 34, an employee of the RAK Free Trade Zone and resident of the area.
"I think a couple of people went in to a gold shop and were trying to steal jewellery. I heard that the shop man pressed the security button and the robbers were firing shots at the police. After, special forces put some shells inside the shop. It was real drama." "The CID and ambulance were there, helicopters were hovering around, hundreds of people blocked the roads, everyone was running there to see what was going on.
Junaid Imam, 33, another resident, rushed to the scene at around 10.30pm when he saw helicopters and a crowd of police. "People nearby heard gunshots. Some people were scared but because the police had stopped people at quite a far distance, nobody was worried about getting caught in the crossfire. Helicopters kept hovering low for more than two hours." Major Gen Sheikh Taleb bin Saqr, the director general of Ras al Khaimah police department, attended the drill and said the officers involved responded to the situation quickly and effectively.
He said the surprise drill demonstrated "the core image of the competence, capability, potency and preparedness of the police force". The drill ended after two hours with the capture of the "robbers" and safe rescue of the "hostages". The training exercise, the first of its type in the emirate, followed a real burglary at a jewellery shop in Ras al Khaimah last month when a thief broke into Damas Jewellery in Lulu Center and stole an estimated Dh1 million (US$272,000) worth of jewellery including diamonds.