Alexandre Distanti, shot by police in Alicante jewellery robbery

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THE man shot by police in Alicante has been linked to a string of armed robberies in Marseilles, according to French press reports. Identified as Alexandre Distanti, 30, he allegedly belonged to a group known of armed robbers known as the ‘jewellery gang’.

The other two alleged robbers – also French – are said to have criminal records in France and are wanted there by the authorities for questioning for similar offences, according to a press report in levante-emv.com

Between November 2006 and February 2007 this gang reportedly carried out 13 robberies in France netting €1.5 million in jewellery.

On Saturday Distanti died after being shot in the head by police as during a botched armed robbery of a jewellery shop in central Alicante. A scene more reminiscent of Chicago in the 30s when gunfire was exchanged between the three robbers and police.

The robbers were reportedly armed with sawn off shotguns and a submachine gun, as well as hand grenades. The three men wore black balaclavas, gloves, and flak jackets.

The men entered jewellery shop part of a chain called ‘Joyerias Siglo XXI’ located on the busy Avenida Alfonso X El Sabio at 8.30pm, brandishing weapons.

They threatened the staff, and took what jewellery they could, but were unable to access the safe as it was locked on a timer. Cries for help were heard by police passing in a patrol car at the time, and the robbers opened fire as they left the shop and tried to make their getaway.

The nearest police vehicle was hit by at least 15 bullets as the robbers fired indiscriminately. “I thought it was a mascletá (firecrackers), but the rhythm of the bangs didn’t seem right. Just after leaving my doorway, I saw two black guys running ,” said an eye witness.

Police returned fire immediately, shooting one of the robbers, Alexandre Distanti, in the head, and killing him instantly.

In the ensuing exchange of gunfire the robbers shot three bystanders, seriously injuring one woman, who was hit in her side, as well as injuring two men who suffered gunshot wounds to their back and wrist.

All were taken to San Juan and Alicante hospitals and have since been discharged. Another man was hospitalized for a few cuts, and four others, three staff members from the targeted store, and an 11-year-old boy, were treated at the scene for minor injuries and shock.

The two remaining robbers fled the scene, continuing to cover their escape with their sawn off shotguns, and bringing the centre of the city to a halt on what was a crowded Saturday night. Dozens of National and Local Police flooded the area in minutes in an attempt to find and apprehend the robbers.

Many of the agents belonged to the Unit of Prevention and Response (UPR) of the provincial police, who by chance had just participated in crowd control at the local Hercules football ground’s Saturday match. Police cornered one of the assailants in an adjacent street and managed handcuff him without further injuries.

The third gunman evaded the police and vanished into the west pier of the port area near the Panoramis leisure complex, which was then cordoned off, with shoppers and cinema goers being forced to stay in the complex by the police for their own safety. It was not until 10 pm that the area was deemed safe and people were allowed to leave.

It has subsequently been reported that the third robber hi-jacked a car and forced its driver at gunpoint to take him to Agost, where he released the man unharmed.

The police managed to track the man and arrested him and a further accomplice as they tried to drive north, reportedly attempting to reach the French border. As well as recovering the jewellery from the shop, agents found in the car of the robbers, other items from previous robberies, and it seemed apparent the gang were on a crime spree, according to press reports.

The second car used by the gang had been stolen from Elche the previous week. In the car Police also found masks, bullet proof vests, and further weapons. Those arrested, are aged 24 – 61 years and French. A “dangerous organized gang” has been broken up, said a National Police spokesman.

Police suspect the gang came to Spain expressly to carry out the robbery, but it has not been revealed why that particular jewellery shop and why Alicante and not further north nearer the French border.

Meanwhile, one of the bystanders shot in the robbery and a friend – Fernando Guzman and Jose Luis Ortega – are to lodge an official complaint for police brutality after officers mistook them for robbers.

Police allegedly burst into the hospital where he was being treated and assaulted them and handcuffed them on the floor, according to Europa Press.

By Paul Deed

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