RIYADH, 30 January 2005 — Petty theft and crime is on the increase in the Saudi capital. The sought-after items are mobile phones and handbags belonging to both men and women.

“Police apathy and public carelessness has led to these problems,” said an Asian worker whose cell phone was stolen recently. When the theft occurred, the worker was using the phone as he stood in the street; two boys in a car suddenly stopped beside him, snatched the phone and sped away.

Another expatriate worker said: “I was talking to my cousin as I walked along the street when suddenly someone appeared, snatched my phone and ran away.”

Another victim was a computer programmer who stopped his car briefly at a hospital and went to collect his medical report. As soon as he got out of the car, his new phone was snatched. He said: “I suffered injuries to my fingers when the thief roughly grabbed my phone. People are now aware of this danger and many of them will not answer their phones in public even if they ring and ring.”

The problems mentioned by all those who have lost their phones were a lack of deterrent punishment and the fact that the police do not take these thefts seriously. Many women have reported men in cars snatching their purses and cell phones as they walk in the street or in the market.

One woman said: “Women are often robbed by someone behind them or in some cases, the thief jumps in front of the woman and before she can react, he has stolen her bag and run off.”

In one case, an Asian whose mobile was stolen was told by the police not to make a formal charge because the thieves may harass the victim’s family if they learn of the charges. The man said: “The thieves even approached me and offered to sell me my memory chip for SR150. My phone had of course already been sold.”

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