Cops, soldiers and correctional services officials among those arrested in Zuurbekom hostage drama

SANDF and SAPS search congregants for firearms outside the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. Pictures: Tracy Lee Stark

A total of five fatalities were confirmed as of Saturday morning after four people were found shot and burnt in a car while a fifth victim, a security guard, was also fatally shot in his car while apparently attending to this complaint.

The South African Police Service (Saps) has confirmed the arrest of over 40 suspects and the seizure of more than 34 firearms after being alerted to a hostage situation and shootout at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC)  in Zuurbekom, Johannesburg in the early hours of Saturday morning.

A total of five fatalities were confirmed as of Saturday morning after four people were found shot and burnt in a car while a fifth victim, a security guard, was also fatally shot in his car while apparently attending to this complaint.

According to a statement issued by the Saps, six of the suspects who were arrested have been taken to hospital.

“Among those arrested are members of Saps, the South African National Defence Force (Sandf), the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and the Department of Correctional Services.”

Firearms seized included five rifles, 16 shotguns and 13 pistols.

“The crime scene is still being processed and the figures of arrests and firearms seized may fluctuate as the Special Task Force, Tactical Response Team and Visible Policing members continue to comb the compound. These Units have also rescued men women and children who are said to be living in the compound and were being held hostage,” the statement read.

According to a report by eNCA, the shootout was part of a battle over control of the church after the untimely passing of its leader in 2019.

 

The attackers are believed to be members of a splinter group that emerged after the death of their leader.

“A group of armed people came to the Modise church and allegedly attacked people who were inside indicating that they were coming to take over the premises,” said the Saps.

“Police are investigating the possibility that this attack may have been motivated by a feud between conflicted parties of the Church.”

Speaking to eNCA, IPHC Exco chairperson Abiel Wessie estimated that about 200 people were held hostage in the church. Among those people are employees of the church, residents of the building and volunteers who had shown up to clean the premises.

The National Commissioner of Police General Khehla John Sitole has praised the Provincial Saps management and the Gauteng team for their prompt response to this attack.

“I am certain that the speedy response by the the joint security forces has averted what could have been a more severe blood bath”, said Sitole.

“I have tasked the provincial management to finalise its preliminary investigations in the quickest possible time and ensure that the 72-hour Activation Plan is mobilised to bring to book all those responsible for this attack”, he added.

“I have embarked on a Spiritual Crime Prevention Concept which involves the participation of all religious denominations in the fight against crime. It is rather unfortunate that such an incident takes place during a time when South Africa is being plagued by a deadly virus and violent crimes,” Sitole said.

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