Gunmen killed six people in an attack on a police station in a small South African town on Wednesday, stealing quantities of weapons and a vehicle in what police were treating as a robbery.
Five police officers and an off-duty soldier were killed in the attack in Nqcobo, about 800 km (480 miles) southeast of Johannesburg, police spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said.
”During the early hours of this morning six people were killed when robbers attacked Engcobo police station,” Naidoo said.
“Five of the six were on-duty police officers. Three police officers were killed at the police station when robbers attacked the station and randomly opened fire on the members.”
Naidoo said the robbers made off with firearms and bundled two other officers into a police car. The bodies of the two were later found dumped on the side of a road.
The gunmen also shot a bystander who turned out to be a off-duty soldier as they fled in a stolen police vehicle, Naidoo said.
South Africa’s police minister, Fikile Mbalula, called the attack a national tragedy.
“The killing of our law enforcement officers robs us of dedicated servants of our people whose only sin was to serve and protect,” Mbalula said on Twitter.
Attacks on police are common in South Africa, which has one of the highest crime rates in the world.
At least 57 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the 12 months between April 2016 and March 2017, according to the latest crime statistics available.