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'Piranha' Gangs Hack Women's Hair In Venezuela
Venezuelans are being warned to be on the lookout for street gangs who pounce on unsuspecting women and chop off their hair.
Nicknamed the Piranhas, after the flesh-eating fish, the scissor-wielding gangs of men and women hang around shopping centres to select their victims.
The gangs sell the stolen hair to beauty salons which fashion it into expensive braids for beauty-obsessed clients.
Hair-extension braids can sell for as much as $1,000 (£645) depending on how long, thick and healthy the hair is.
To pre-empt†being attacked, some women have had their hair chopped-off and have donated it to children who lost theirs after being treated for cancer.
Vanessa Castillo cried as her pretty, long jet black hair was snipped for charity. "It is better to give it to kids with cancer than have the Piranhas steal it," she said, sobbing.
She spoke at a donate-your-hair-to-kids day at a beauty salon in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city.
"Is this what we have come to? For there to be people who steal your hair is a form of chaos," said Ms Castillo, a 26-year-old dental student.
"A lot of women have come to donate their hair out of fear of being roughed up in the street, as they are in danger," said hairdresser Contreras, as he snipped-away Ms Castillo's locks.
"It is a new way of abusing women," he added. "We ask the authorities to punish this."
"I have tried to avoid putting myself in danger," said Ivon Galindo, a 27-year-old computer technician with long brown hair.
"Having your hair stolen is as if they were mutilating your body," she added.
Venezuelans have been so upset at the attacks that the government has become involved, after harrowing media reports of women in Maracaibo being beaten and robbed of their locks.
President Nicolas Maduro†has declared war on the Pirahnas by ordering an investigation into "mafias that cut off young women's hair".
"What kind of way is that to mistreat young women? Young women are sacred," he said.
The conspiracy-minded leader blamed the hair thefts on a "psychological war in the whole country" orchestrated by Colombian and Venezuelan opposition figures based in Miami.