“carjacking”, these violent car thefts that skyrocket with the economic crisis

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“Carjackers”, or car thieves, are prevalent in Iran in a context of economic crisis: Several shocking videos taken on the roads show men armed with machetes, tasers or firearms attacking motorists. Our observer was the victim of an attempted theft of her vehicle.

“Keft giri” is the Persian word that Iranians use to refer to aggravated theft, such as assault. But it is now also used to describe another phenomenon, namely ultra-violent car thefts on Iranian roads. On social networks, a search based on this term yields hundreds of videos recorded across the country.

The methods of the Bolts vary. Some assaulted their victims and seized their vehicle and valuables by force. Others pretend to be pedestrians and stage fake accidents, forcing the driver to stop. These thefts sometimes take place in broad daylight, in busy streets.

A video released on July 2, 2022 shows a man jumping on the windshield of a car and then breaking it to get into the vehicle and steal it. The victim screams for help.

The dissemination on social networks of dozens of videos testifying to these attacks and thefts has sown a wave of panic in Iran. To the point that some internet users have started spreading advice … to avoid car theft.

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This video posted on July 8, 2021 shows two men attacking a car with a machete. The scene takes place around noon on a highway between Tehran and Qazvin.

“I refused to stop and they started waving machetes”

Sima (pseudonym) fell victim to these hijackers in early June:

I drove home from work. I took the same exit as usual [sur une autoroute au nord de Téhéran, NDLR].

I slowed down to turn right, and saw a man dressed in all-black walking along the crash barrier. At first I thought he was lost. Then he ran in my direction, blocked my way and smashed my rearview mirror. I was shocked for a moment … Then I remembered that one of my friends had told me that exactly the same thing had happened to him a few weeks earlier, on another highway. It was a car wreck.

I have not stopped driving. When I reached the main road, I saw a white car following me, and the man in black was driving this car.

There were three other men in the car. They shouted, “Stop! Stop! You beat that poor man down!”

Even today, when I think of their faces, it scares me. I refused to stop and they started waving machetes. I shook and screamed for help, but no one intervened. By a miracle, I remembered that there was a police station nearby. So I hurried there, stopped the car right in front and literally jumped into the arms of a policeman.

An armed man steals a sedan in broad daylight on June 30, 2022 near Shadegan in southwestern Iran.

“We did not file a complaint, it was useless”

I thought it was over, but these men turned out to be more aggressive than I thought. They stopped in front of the policeman and one of them said to me, “We’ll catch you eventually”. He made a gesture with his machete to mime that they would cut my throat. Then the rider stepped on the accelerator and they drove off.

I was in shock. The police took me to the station to give me water. The policeman told me I had done wisely not to stop. He also said they robbed dozens of people every day.

I asked them why the police did not do anything about it, he told me they already had a lot to do and too few police available to patrol. He specified that at least three police officers would be needed at each motorway exit – which is impossible. I stayed at the police station until my husband came to pick me up, and then we went home together. We did not complain, it was useless.

“They feel they are getting their due”

Since that day, I no longer take the highway. It takes me more than an hour to get back, but it is unthinkable for me to go through this exit again. As soon as I think of these men, I get sick. It is awful to think that every day there is a new friend, colleague or family member who may be a victim of this violence.

I think these criminals are unemployed. They definitely have no resources and need to be ready for anything in order to make money. I think they hate anyone they consider “rich”, as if someone with a little money has personally robbed them. They feel they are getting their due.

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A video posted on July 8 shows an attempted car theft. The man behind the camera says, “The white car was in a fake accident. The driver did not stop to avoid being robbed, and while the thief is on the bonnet of his car, he walks towards the police station. The thief asks him to stop and let him go. “

In Iran, there are no official figures to measure the extent of these road attacks and car thefts. However, at a rare press conference in June 2022, Reza Masoudifar, Vice President of Social Affairs and Crime Prevention of Iran’s judicial system, revealed that the total number of robberies of all kinds – not just robberies and roadblocks – in Iran had increased sevenfold since 2009 and reached 1.4 million cases per year.

By January 2021, Iranian police spokesman General Mahdi Hajian had already acknowledged an increase in violent robberies, which he blamed on poverty and unemployment, but not on police work. He had also already mentioned the spread of videos of assaults and thefts on the roads and had recalled the “ban” on sharing these videos “under the law”.

>> Also read on the Observatory’s website: Violence, suicide and addiction: an unprecedented economic crisis plunges Iranian society into the abyss

In Iran, violent crime is on the rise as the country experiences a severe economic crisis. Half of the country’s inhabitants live below the poverty line, and more than a fifth of the population lives in slums.

According to an independent survey conducted in Iran in 2021, more than a third of Iranians say they have been victims of robberies, and 27% of these robberies were violent. While 70% of victims say they have been injured, only 5% have taken legal action against the perpetrators.

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