x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Spike in sword crime among teenagers

There has been a remarkable increase in the number of court cases involving young people and the use of swords

Zahee Ahmed, 28, a Pakistani swordmaker, hones a blade at his workshop in RAK’s old town. Sword sellers must be licensed but are not required to keep purchase records. There are no age restrictions on sales.
Zahee Ahmed, 28, a Pakistani swordmaker, hones a blade at his workshop in RAK’s old town. Sword sellers must be licensed but are not required to keep purchase records. There are no age restrictions on sales.

DUBAI // Violent crimes involving swords are rising at alarming rates among teenagers, according to senior police officers and judges.

Dubai Juvenile Court Judge Omar Karmastagy said he had seen a "remarkable" increase in the number of cases, most of which involved boys aged 14 to 17.

The weapons were easily available, he said, and could be purchased without restriction at shops across the emirate, from outdoor souqs to grocery stores and malls.

"I went myself to the market and saw how anyone at any age can buy such a weapon," he said.

He said only a change in the law would curb the use of swords and other bladed weapons in such a high number of crimes.

Although exact statistics were not immediately available, several high-profile cases have surfaced in Dubai courts in recent months.

Last month, three men were charged with assaulting a driver in Al Warqa, attacking him and his vehicle with swords. Two weeks earlier, a fishermen and two of his friends were accused of charging a group of men sitting outside their home with swords.

In late January, a salesman lost a finger and suffered nerve damage in his arm after he was attacked by the fiancé of a woman he had met.

And in Ajman, a police officer was killed in a sword attack last month, prompting a month-long campaign there against the weapons.

In 2008, the Federal National Council's Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs attempted to include bladed weapons in the UAE arms law. But according to Ali Majid al Matrooshi, the head of the committee, the Ministry of Interior removed the stipulation, saying it preferred the items to be under municipal control.

Judge Karmastagy said there should be a blanket ban on bladed weapons entering the country, even if the swords were antiques. Right now in Dubai "a child can walk into the shop and buy a sword", he said.

The boys who were involved in the killing of an Al Rashidiya schoolboy early last year used a sword they had bought from a busy Dubai market, along with an army knife from Saudi Arabia, he said.

Controls were required but legislation remained a thorny issue, according to Judge Dr Jamal al Sumaiti, the director of the Dubai Judicial Institute.

"Do we need more control? I think yes, but tighter regulations by legislation on such items can lead to an infringement on personal rights," he said.

"How can you regulate kitchen knife sales? You can regulate firearms and even army knives, but then that leaves us with the duality of use of some of these items."

Swords are largely sold as antiques or traditional items, especially in the Northern Emirates. But although they are dull in the stores, it is easy to have them sharpened.

Tougher regulations and inspections have to be implemented by municipalities and economic departments in different emirates, he stressed.

The general public also had a major role to play, he said, urging them to petition for action by the authorities, who would then have a duty to pass these concerns on to ministers.

But municipal officials said their ability to regulate weapons sales was limited.

"Our restrictions are directed to anything classified as toys. Otherwise we depend on customer complaints," said Redha Salman, the Director of Public Health and Safety for Dubai Municipality.

"We have a clear set of laws on what can and cannot be traded, but the duality of items' use can limit our jurisdiction.

"Swiss Army knives, retractable and concealable blades and such items can be restricted, but control over them is tough. These items can be used for leisure use and can harm people."

Since 2006, the municipality has banned other similar items from the market, such as BB guns, Mr Salman said.

Law enforcement agencies have taken measures to guard against the proliferation of swords.

Last week, Maj Gen Khamis Mattar al Muzainah, the deputy chief of police in Dubai, sent out a stern warning on public radio saying anyone caught with a sharp weapon would face arrest and legal action.

Following the police officer's death last month, Ajman Police launched a large-scale campaign aimed at sharp weapons, in a bid to curb the number of armed assaults.

The deputy director of Ajman Police, Col Sultan bin Abdullah al Nuaimi, said 100 youngsters carrying various types of bladed weapons were detained across the emirate as part of the campaign.

The majority were aged 12 to 18, while a significant number were aged between 20 to 22, Col al Nuaimi said. He said the majority of the arrests were made during the night.

"Since some juveniles started warning each other, we decided to turn the campaign into sudden inspections," he said, adding that the campaign would continue.

As part of Ajman's campaign, Umm al Quwain's Department of Economic Development seized scores of sharp weapons from shops last month.

Ajman Police are working with the municipality to control the sale of sharp weapons, said Col al Nuaimi. "These weapons in all shapes and sizes are openly available at many shops," he said, urging municipalities to set guidelines restricting their sale. Col al Nuaimi said families also played a role in controlling the problem.

"Most of the detained were from shattered families, which mainly pushed them to this minor delinquency. "But co-operating with each other, we will keep them from swerving into more severe delinquencies like addiction or [worse] crimes," he said.