Five people were killed in an attack on a church west of Johannesburg, South African police said, and some of the attackers took hostages who were later released.
At least 40 people were arrested and 40 firearms, including rifles, shotguns and pistols related to the attack on the International Holiness Church of Pentecost in Zuurbekom, were confiscated, police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo told local eNCA television on Saturday. .
Police said they rescued men, women and children who had been taken hostage and appeared to be living in the church. It was unclear how many were rescued.
The morning attack by a group of armed people “may have been motivated by a fight” between church members, the police statement said.
The church is one of the largest, and reportedly the richest, in South Africa.
Photos tweeted by police showed more than a dozen men lying on the ground, subdued, along with rifles, pistols, a baseball bat and ammunition boxes, including at least one marked “law enforcement.”
#sapsGP Earlier this morning, #SAPS was alerted to a hostage situation and shot at 30 Penthouse International Holiness Church, Zuurbekom, 30 suspects arrested and seized more than 25 firearms. 5 deaths are confirmed. The scene is still active with SAPS Hostage Negotiators. TM pic.twitter.com/5sMjYkYFjg
– SA Police Service 🇿🇦 (@SAPoliceService) July 11, 2020
The security forces’ response “prevented what could have been a more severe bloodbath,” said Khehla National Police Commissioner John Sitole.
Those arrested included members of the police, defense forces and correctional services.
The church’s headquarters in Zuurbekom has been the scene of inter-faction violence more than once in recent years, with gunshots, stones thrown and cars smashed, according to local news reports.
“Problems have been brewing in the church after the death of their leader, Glayton Modise,” in February 2016, “the Sowetan newspaper reported in 2018.