The gang of armed robbers who held up a North Coast petrol station this week were “hard-core criminals” who would not hesitate to shoot to kill, police warned on Thursday.
Provincial police spokesman Colonel Vincent Mdunge said they were following leads on the gang, who are known to operate between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
Two security officers were wounded in the shoot-out with the gang, who used AK-47s and R5s, on Monday.
Rubendran Reddy, an officer with security company Reaction Unit SA (Rusa), was shot five times with assault rifles and was to undergo surgery on Friday to have his left hand amputated.
His colleague Deon Chinnian, who was repeatedly hit on his head with an AK-47, is recovering at home.
The suspects “are well-known hard-core criminals. They are armed to the teeth (and) are very dangerous”, Mdunge said.
A manhunt was under way to track the gang, who are notorious for armed robberies.
“We are following very, very strong leads. The arrest of these thugs is imminent.”
The gang had between 10 and 15 members, Mdunge said.
One suspect was arrested on the South Coast on Tuesday by the Durban organised crime unit.
It is believed it is the same suspect who was shot in the shoot-out with the two Rusa security officers.
“For now, he has not been charged. Police are questioning him.”
Reddy underwent emergency surgery on Monday and Tuesday in an attempt to save his hand.
“The operation was not a success. Unfortunately, he will never regain the use of his fingers. Doctors advised it was best to amputate,” Rusa spokesman Prem Balram said.
He said Reddy was very emotional when he was told about the amputation.
Reddy, his family’s breadwinner, is also worried about whether he will be able to work again.
“I have given him and his family the assurance that he will always have a job,” Balram said.
Balram, who viewed the CCTV footage at the garage several times, said his members drove into an ambush.
“There was nothing they could do. In fact, it is a miracle they survived. Rubendran actually saved Deon from being shot in the head.
“On the footage it shows that when Rubendran drove into the garage, the gang members who were firing at Deon became distracted.
“Also, at the same time, the suspects who were in the shop locked themselves in.
“There was a few minutes of chaos and that took the focus off Deon.”
An emotional Chinnian said when the gang closed in on him and began shooting, he thought he was going to die.
He said they asked him why he was shooting at them.
“One of them shouted that I should be killed. They then put the gun to my head.
“I just prayed… then Rubendran drove in and they were distracted. I cannot believe I escaped unharmed.”
More than 50 spent bullet cartridges were found at the scene of the robbery.