iPhone 5 thieves break into mobile shops in Japan hours before launch

Local police said at least 191 handsets were stolen from multiple shops in the hours before they opened for business Friday

Thieves broke into a number of mobile phone shops across central Japan and stole hundreds of iPhone 5 handsets hours before the device went on sale Friday morning, police said.

The robbers broke doors and forced open the front shutters on at least three shops in Osaka, two run by Japanese operator au and another by Softbank, making off with 191 iPhone 5 handsets in the thefts, which are uncommon in the country. Local media reported that thefts also occurred in nearby Kobe, bringing the total number of handsets to over 220.

"These sorts of robberies are rare here," Nasakazu Ohashi, a deputy police chief in Osaka, said.

Ohashi said that in his Osaka precinct robbers forced their way into the back door of an au shop at around 2 a.m. local time, making off with 42 handsets valued at about 300,000 yen, or US$40,000. At a Softbank shop in a different part of the city, a security camera captured three men, who forced open metal shutters covering the front door, gathered up 116 phones in storage and on display, and disabled an alarm on the back door before running away on foot, all in a four-minute span from 4:24 a.m. local time.

Police said the robbers apparently targeted only the iPhone 5, leaving earlier versions of the iPhone and handsets from other manufacturers untouched.

The iPhone 5 is already generating as much or more fanfare than previous launches in Japan, one of the first countries to begin iPhone sales on Friday. In central Ginza in Tokyo, nearly 800 people lined up outside the Apple Store, with those in the front of the line waiting nearly a week for the privilege. The smaller shops plundered on Friday were in far less populated parts of the country.

In Japan, au and Softbank, the second and third largest carriers behind NTT DoCoMo, are the only two to offer the iPhone.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service
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