South African police are searching for members of a heavily armed gang suspected of planning a cash-in-transit robbery.
On Monday, police acting on a tip-off managed to intercept a group of around 25 men.
A furious gun battle ensued in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville.
It resulted in one of South Africa’s deadliest shootouts in recent years. Police shot dead eight of the suspects, while another eight are on the run.
What happened in the shootout?
According to police, a helicopter was deployed in an attempt to fend off the planned attack.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said the armed group began firing at the helicopter.
“They shot the helicopter before anybody did anything to them,” Cele told reporters at the crime scene. “They shot the pilot,” Cele said.
Residents living in the area posted videos online of the moment the gun battle took place.
Eight of the suspects were shot dead. Nine were taken into custody. Cele said the some of the suspects came from KwaZulu-Natal — a province in South Africa, Zimbabwe and neighboring Botswana.
AK-47 assault rifles and stolen vehicles were seized by police.
South Africa’s cash in transit scourge
Attacks on cash-in-transit vehicles have become an almost daily occurrence in South Africa.
These are armored vehicles that are responsible for transporting large amounts of cash for the retail and banking sectors, among others.
They are crewed by armed guards, and when an attack takes place, they have to either fend off the attackers, or surrender. According to the latest police figures, 60 cash-in-transit robberies were reported between the months of October and December, 2021.
While the mode of attack is nothing new to the country that has been battling high levels of criminality, the numbers of those involved in attacks appear to be steadily increasing.
Large gangs with high caliber weapons, and often stolen vehicles, rob vans while they conduct drop-offs or pick-ups. Explosives are often used to blast open the armored carriers.
The frequency of these attacks places ordinary South Africans at risk, due to the attacks taking place on public roads.
The already stretched South African Police Service is battling one of the highest crime rates in the world.
During the last quarter of 2021, South Africa’s murder rate increased by 8.9%. In the space of just three months, 6,859 people were murdered, an average of 76 murders a day.
kb/rt (AFP, dpa)