After allegedly executing political analyst Kem Ley at a gas station in Phnom Penh, witnesses say Oeuth Ang strode down Mao Tse Toung and Sothearos boulevards, alternatingly brandishing and concealing a pistol as ever more motorbikes jumped on his trail.
He was confronted three times by security guards and police but did not stop moving until he reached a pagoda, where he was cornered and beaten bloody by a crowd that believed they had been following a thief, witnesses said.
Since Kem Ley’s death on the morning of July 10, authorities have said little about the 30 minutes between the murder and the arrest of the suspected shooter, who provided his name as “Chuop Samlap, or “Meet Kill.”
Witnesses along the two busy boulevards, however, provided dramatic accounts of the gunman’s 1.5-km flight.
After the fatal shooting, the gunman burst out from the convenience store at the Caltex station and began running along Mao Tse Toung, pursued by customers and others, said laborer Ly Chhorng Sokha, who watched the incident unfold from a construction site across the road.
As he passed a Brown Coffee outlet directly behind the gas station, the gunman pointed his pistol at passersby as a warning against coming closer, Mr. Chhorng Sokha said.
“People were shouting ‘Thief!’” he said, adding that once the gun came out, “people backed off.”
A teenage security guard at a nearby business, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said guards from Brown moved toward the gunman in an attempt to detain him, at which point the man flashed his weapon.
“The gunman was walking as normal. Nobody was chasing him. A moto-taxi driver shouted ‘Thief!’ and the Brown guards attempted to detain him, but then the guy took out a gun and they backed off,” he said.
After threatening the guards at the coffee shop, the gunman continued at pace down the street, while five or six motorbikes followed him from a distance of about 50 meters, said Doung Sokheng, a guard at the Fair Market convenience store at the corner of Mao Tse Toung and Street 63.
“He was walking fast. There were some people shouting from behind, but they wouldn’t go too close because he had a gun,” Mr. Sokheng said.
“He was holding a gun under his shirt. He just looked normal. I was so scared, so I didn’t get closer.”
The gunman then ran across Norodom Boulevard before making his way north on Sothearos, said Lay Eng, who sells flowers at the intersection.
At that point, a large number of people were following him on motorbikes, witnesses said, including a police officer who appeared to have, very briefly, persuaded him to surrender outside the Sofitel hotel.
“When he was here, a police officer drove up behind him and shouted, ‘Why did you do that? Let’s talk,’” and motioned for him to climb on the back of the motorbike, said a witness who gave his name only as Pheak.
“The killer then went to get on the bike, but then stopped, took a gun from his bag and carried on walking. And the police officer stopped,” he said.
The gunman then made his way past Aeon Mall, said Noy Samnang, a moto-taxi driver stationed outside the shopping center. The man seemed relaxed, even nonchalant, as he continued north up the busy street, he said.
“There were about 30 motos following him, but they were just following, not attempting to stop him because he was walking with a gun,” Mr. Samnang said. “He wasn’t threatening anyone, he was just walking as if he was walking in his garden.”
But the gunman began sprinting when two police officers leveled their rifles at him outside the Russian Embassy, he said.
“He dropped his gun when the police officers pointed rifles at him. I followed him until he got to the pagoda, and then we hit and kicked him,” he said.
En Bona, a barber who works on the street adjacent to Wat Svay Pope, said he believed the officers had come from inside the Russian Embassy.
“When he reached Aeon, many moto-taxi drivers and people were following him. I heard people yelling ‘He is the thief!’ They were saying that he had taken a foreigner’s necklace. He was jogging,” Mr. Bona said.
“Police from the Russian Embassy ran across the street and pointed their rifles and asked him to drop his gun. After he dropped his gun, he didn’t say anything; he tried to escape,” he said.
A block later, he was trapped at the gates of the pagoda, and a mob quickly began beating the man they thought was a thief, Mr. Bona said.
“After he dropped the gun, he tried to get into the pagoda and many people blocked him. Those people were punching and kicking him,” he added.
A mob of about 20 to 30 people beat Mr. Ang for about 10 minutes before police intervened and planted the bloodied gunman on the back of a motorbike, Mr. Bona said.
Officially identified as “Chuop Samlap,” Mr. Ang was charged with the murder of Kem Ley on July 13. In a video confession, the former monk and soldier said he killed the popular government critic over a $3,000 debt, though many suspect the murder was politically motivated.
Several witnesses to Mr. Ang’s flight said they would have extracted their own vengeance had they known his identity on the morning of July 10.
“If I’d known before the news was published, maybe I would have gone and attacked him,” Mr. Bona said.
Uong Sam Oeung, who cuts hair nearby, said the situation would have been very different had those in pursuit been aware that he had just killed one of the country’s most respected political commentators.
“Many people thought he was a thief who had stolen from a foreigner,” he said. “If they had known he killed Kem Ley, he would have been killed by the people on this street.”
(Additional reporting by Buth Kimsay)