Police clarify that officers arrested in Zuurbekom hostage drama were not on duty

Scenes from the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC)  in Zuurbekom are pictured, 11 July 2020.  The South African Police Service 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. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark  

Among those people held hostage were employees of the church, residents of the building and volunteers who had shown up to clean the premises.

Police have come out clarifying that of those arrested during the arrest of over 40 suspects during a hostage situation and shootout at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom on Saturday morning, those regarded as law enforcement were not there in their capacity as members of security forces.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo says it was important to note that those members nabbed were not at the scene in their capacity as members of security forces.

“Instead they were there as members of the church/congregants and they just happen to be members of the different departments.

“I am emphasizing this because of the growing narrative in some media platforms who are projecting these particular occupational classes as a headline without putting it in its proper context.”

The Citizen earlier reported the arrest of over 40 suspects and the seizure of more than 34 firearms. This was after police were alerted to a hostage situation and shootout at the church in the early hours of Saturday morning.

A total of five fatalities were confirmed. 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 the complaint.

An initial statement from police said six of the suspects who were arrested were taken to hospital.

“Among those arrested are members of Saps, the SA 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.

It is understood that the Special Task Force, Tactical Response Team and Visible Policing members rescued men, women and children at the compound, allegedly held hostage.

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 group that emerged after the death of their leader.

The armed group came to the church and allegedly attacked people who were inside indicating that they were coming to take over the premises, read a police statement.

“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.

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