The police confirmed on Friday evening that the group of transit robbers who were shot dead in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo, during a shootout with the police, were a “dangerous gang believed to be behind a series of transit robberies in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng”.
The Falcons and specialized units of the police raided a house in Eltivillas in Louis Trichardt on Friday afternoon while this alleged syndicate was busy planning a transit robbery. This address had already been identified by the police a few days before.
“When the police arrived on the scene, the robbers did not surrender, but started shooting at the police. The police fired back and a shootout broke out,” confirms Lirandzu Themba, Police Minister Bheki Cele’s spokesperson.
The shootout lasted about 90 minutes. Sixteen men and two women died at the scene. A police officer attached to the Hawks was wounded and taken to hospital for further medical treatment after the incident.
According to Brig. Athlenda Mathe, police spokesperson, four suspects were arrested at another address in Thohoyandou, Limpopo.
The police are still on the scene and combing the area.
RNews reported earlier that a large amount of weapons, ammunition and explosives had been seized. Five vehicles were also seized, including a Land Rover Freelander, a Toyota Hilux bakkie, a Ford Ranger Wildtrak bakkie, a Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz GL and a Volkswagen Tiguan.
Lt. gen. Godfrey Lebeya, head of the Hawks, says the crackdown on the syndicate is the culmination of a major investigation that already began in January this year.
“Limpopo and Mpumalanga joined forces to arrest the syndicate which was identified based on various investigations by the team. We therefore believe that we have indeed apprehended the suspects we investigated. Further investigations will be launched to establish whether the group was involved in other crimes,” said Lebeya.
Cele says the police are encouraged to continue to carry out their mandate in terms of the Constitution to protect the public and enforce the law.
“This fatal shooting that lasted more than 90 minutes should serve as a stark warning to criminals – individuals or gangs – that the police will always respond accordingly to any level of criminality. The police’s mandate is to maintain the authority of the state and they will not hesitate to use what is at their disposal and within the law to protect citizens and their property,” said Cele.
“This incident now takes place at the start of Police Safety Month, which takes place annually in September. The department encourages police officers to continue to act against criminals, while not putting their own safety at risk in the performance of their duties.”