Johannesburg (AP) — Five people are dead and more than 40 have been arrested after an early-morning hostage situation at a long-troubled church near Johannesburg, police in South Africa said Saturday.
A statement said police and military who responded to reports of a shooting at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church headquarters in Zuurbekom found four people “shot and burned to death in a car” and a security guard shot in another car. Six other people were injured.
Police said they rescued men, women and children who had been held hostage and appeared to have been living at the church. It was not clear how many were rescued.
The attack by a group of armed people “may have been motivated by a feud” between church members, the police statement said.
#sapsGP Early hours this morning #SAPS was alerted to a hostage situation & shooting @ International Pentcost Holiness Church, Zuurbekom, 30 suspects arrested & seized more than 25 firearms. 5 fatalities are confirmed. The scene is still active with SAPS Hostage Negotiators. TM pic.twitter.com/5sMjYkYFjg
— SA Police Service (@SAPoliceService) July 11, 2020
The church is one of the largest — and reportedly richest — in South Africa.
Photos tweeted by the police showed more than a dozen men lying on the ground, subdued, along with rifles, pistols, a baseball bat and boxes of ammunition —including at least one marked “law enforcement.”
The response by security forces “averted what could have been a more severe bloodbath,” national police commissioner Khehla John Sitole said.
Among those arrested were members of the police, defense forces and correctional services.
The church’s Zuurbekom headquarters has been the scene of violence between factions more than once in recent years, with shots fired, rocks thrown and cars smashed, according to local news reports.
“Trouble has been brewing at the church following the death of its leader‚ Glayton Modise‚ in February 2016,” The Sowetan newspaper reported in 2018.