ANTAKYA, TURKIYE (AFP) – His bloodied face is instantly visible as he runs down the alley of the old bazaar in the historic city of Antakya, pursued by a shopkeeper with an iron bar, accusing him of looting in the wake of Turkiye’s huge earthquake.
Last Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor hit Turkiye and Syria, killing nearly 26,000 people and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.
Looters exploited the tragedy in Turkiye, smashing windows with hammers, and taking whatever they can find, including expensive mobile phones.
The situation is tense in Hatay, a southern Turkish province where police have arrested 42 people on suspicion of looting.
When police detained the suspects, they were carrying money, smartphones, computers, arms, jewellery and bank cards. Shopkeepers, like the one in the bazaar, are on guard alongside security forces, ready to hunt down anyone giving rise to suspicion.
The ancient city is quiet and streets that were unaffected by the quake are deserted.
Exploiting this eerie silence are looters, going on a spree inside shops that have remained intact.
While some people, desperate for food and baby products, broke into supermarkets after aid did not arrive immediately, looters now rummage through electronics and clothing stores.
Four ATMs were ripped open from the front and emptied.
At a smartphone store, only the signs of the big labels remain. Everything else has been taken, apart from a few bits and pieces of packaging.
Next door, the mannequins in the window have been stripped naked and knocked over while the racks and shelves have been emptied.
Videos appeared on social media, purportedly showing looters beaten up.
Hatay resident Aylin Kabasakal could not hide her frustration at the situation.
“We’re guarding our homes, our cars. The looters are looting our homes. There’s nothing left to say, unfortunately. We’re destroyed, we’re shaken. What we have gone through is a nightmare,” she said.
In the province bordering Syria, which hosts over 400,000 Syrian refugees, suspicion spreads like wildfire about “foreign” looters. But shopkeeper Nizamettin Bilmez, who sells white goods, admitted Turks “can also do this”.
His vacuum cleaners are less attractive than the phones sold next door, especially since the collapse of the flats above him partially blocked entrance to his shop.
For Bilmez, it is understandable why people broke into supermarkets to find food.
“It’s normal for baby wipes, food, drink,” he said, since aid did not arrive for the first couple of days.
But the government is cracking down on looters.
In a decree on Saturday, suspects accused of looting can now be held for seven days instead of four under the state of emergency that came into force this week for three months.