David Tesfaalem and Basil Abdul-Latif’s gang targeted cash-in-transit deliveries to branches of Santander, Nationwide, Sainsbury’s and Tesco wearing ballistic body armour and balaclavas.
Workers were ambushed by men wielding loaded handguns, metal crowbars, axes and knives as they entered banks and stores across London, Oxford, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, Kingston Crown Court heard.
In one robbery caught on CCTV, a guard is buddled into ATM bunker room at a Sainsbury’s Local by two attackers who race inside, grab him around the neck and press a firearm to his temple.
The employee, a former Gurka soldier, was threatened with execution by a thug who started counting down from ten to one in the horror on Barnes High Street in October 2018.
Separately, Brooklyn McFarlane, 27, and Mahdi Hashi, 29, repeatedly struck a guard around the head and upper body with a claw hammer before making off with a cash cassette box from Tesco Extra on Staines Road, Feltham in July that year.
Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad began to investigate a linked series of robberies under Operation Atoll.
Covert surveillance was carried on at least ten members of the mob who often congregated on the Henry Prince Estate in Earlsfield, Wandsworth.
A fleet of stolen cars valued at £243,000 were tracked using automatic number plate recognition cameras and their phone movements analysed.
Tesfaalem, 30, and 36-year-old Abdul-Latif spent their loot on luxury cars, fine dining and designer clothes to impress girlfriends. A fortune was laundered through fixed odds terminals in betting shops.
But Tesfaalem slipped up during a Nationwide raid in Tooting when his getaway vehicle was seen on CCTV.
Although the four-wheel drive car was had cloned plates, detectives’ painstaking enquiries led to its Czech manufacture, who disclosed location data from a SIM card embedded in the on-board satellite navigation system.
After robbing £25,000 being delivered to the Santander next door to Nationwide a few weeks later, the gang torched their clothes on an industrial estate in south London. But in another blunder were caught by hidden cameras set up to catch fly-tippers.
Adam Salman, 32, later suffered flash burns after pouring petrol on himself while trying to torch a stolen Volvo.
On their seized phones, officers found “pumped up” messages discussing that if confronted by the Flying Squad or Met marksmen they “weren’t going to go easy”.
On Monday four men - McFarlane, Hashi, Abdi Omar, 27, Noaman Amin, 26, all of Wandsworth - were sentenced after being convicted for their roles in the robbery conspiracy.
McFarlane, 27, was sentenced to a total of 13 years’ in jail. Omar, Hashi and Amin were sentenced to nine years each.
Six others, Tesfaalem, Basil Abdul-Latif, Salman plus Ibrahim Lyazi, 29, Ola Orulebaja, 36, and Ihab Ashaoui, 30, were sentenced to a total of 101 years for their parts in the conspiracy in hearings that can only now be reported.
Detective Constable Stephen O’Connell, from the Met’s Flying Squad, said: “The group caused havoc in and outside of London.
“It must have been terrifying for the victims. At the Sainsbury’s in Barnes, 6ft 2ins Abdul-Latif and 6ft 7ins Lyazi, both in full face balaclavas and wearing ballistic body armour, robbed two ex-Gurkas working as guards.
“They were grabbed, had their helmets removed as guns were put to their temples.
“Magazines were taken out of the firearms to show live rounds and then they commenced a countdown from ten, so if the other guard hadn’t opened the bunker, they were going to execute the first guard.
“These men have since discovered that crime does not pay and thanks to the complex investigative work by the Flying Squad, they will instead be spending time behind bars.
“Investigations continue to track down and bring to justice outstanding suspects who are believed to be involved in these offences.”
Detective Superintendent Simon Moring, from Central Specialist Crime, added it would be “naïve” to think the gang were convicted of every raid committed.
He said: “In the Seventies, there was the romantic notion of a bank robber. But there’s nothing romantic about looking down the barrel of a gun or being beaten by a crowbar.”