Eastern Cape police have launched a massive manhunt after 15 armed robbers drilled their way into a Standard Bank in Ngcobo and shot at police, the police station and houses nearby in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The Hollywood style stick-up took place just after midnight in the sleepy Eastern Cape town.
The robbers allegedly tied up a security guard and got into the bank by cutting open an ATM with angle grinders.
Police said the robbers took up positions all over the town and started firing at police when a police vehicle approached the scene.
The police returned fire and for a while only the rattling of the firearms was heard. One police officer was hurt and was rushed to hospital.
“It is being investigated that the robbers also kept the police station and police residential homes under surveillance and, once the shooting started, they fired randomly at the station and these houses, to prevent reinforcement from police members,” Cofimvaba cluster spokeswoman Captain Namhla Mdleleni said.
“A case of business robbery, attempted murder and malicious damage to property has been opened.”
Off-duty police officer Xolisa Mvana said: “It was shortly after midnight when I heard gunshots from a distance.
“But the shooting came closer and closer and became louder.
“I grabbed my child and we moved from the bed and slept on the mattress on the floor.
“It was scary. I thought that the Boko Haram kind of gang was attacking the town and we were all going to be wiped out.
“I was even scared to phone in case there was someone outside the door.”
A truck driver who had parked in town said: “It was like a movie. There were shooting everywhere and it was big guns.
“Some of the shooters were using my truck to hide but I was scared to even look.”
Provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga said the scene was like a war zone.
A petrol attendant said: “These guys pointed a firearm in my direction and opened fire. I am not sure if they were shooting at me or just in my direction.
“I thought I was dead. I have never seen anything like that.
“I am still shocked and do not want to talk much about it.”
People who managed to spot the gunmen said they were wearing balaclavas and only their mouths and eyes were visible.
Public Order Policing, the National Intervention Unit and Organised Crime detectives were called in but the robbers managed to escape in high performance vehicles including an Audi, BMW, a Toyota Fortuner and a Toyota Hilux.
“The response and the reinforcement was superb,” Ntshinga said.
She said that some of their members were traumatised by the attack and that social workers would be sent to debrief them,
“But it is clear that the gang came to rob the bank,” she said.
Ntshinga visited the police station and was shocked to see the number of bullets that were pumped into the police van which was first on the scene. She said the police officers were lucky to be alive.
She said the injured officer was in hospital but not critical. The bullet which hit him in the arm did not enter the bone.
The general also visited the bank, but it was business as usual when she arrived.
Ntshinga said she had sanctioned additional resources to a special team that would hunt down the gang.