Cops hunt killer airport gang

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Julie Kalala was shot at her home in Pretoria.

Johannesburg - Police have launched a manhunt for a gang that killed a 21-year-old university student after they followed her home from the airport and shot her for reportedly questioning why they were taking her mother’s passport.

Julie Kalala, who was in her second year of marketing at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), was shot in the stomach on Sunday night as she arrived at her home in Newlands, Pretoria.

She was with her boyfriend after picking up her mother, Josephine Kalala, from OR Tambo International Airport.

Police spokeswoman Captain Colette Weilbach said the family, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was held up at gunpoint in their driveway by three men.

“They took the mother’s luggage, jewellery and $1 000 (R10 900) from the boot. In the process a shot was fired and the young woman was wounded,” Weilbach said.

Several reports have said the robbers shot Kalala after she asked them not to take her mother’s passport but a relative contacted by The Star could not confirm this.

Weilbach was aware of these reports but said she could not confirm the information.

“After the suspects fled the boyfriend went for help and a neighbour took the wounded woman to a local hospital,” said Weilbach.

Kalala was declared dead on arrival at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria.

Weilbach said a case of murder had been opened but no arrests had been made.

Kalala’s uncle, Junior Mozagba, said it was a difficult time for them. “The family is still grieving and it is still hard for everyone,” he said in an e-mail on Wednesday morning.

This murder has once again turned the spotlight on what has come to be known as “follow-home gangs” from airports and the police’s National Investigating Unit is on the case.

Gauteng provincial police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila said a team of detectives under top-cop Lieutenant-General Vinesh Munoo were investigating gangs with a similar modus operandi in Gauteng.

Malila said one man was arrested recently and was denied bail last week in connection with 10 robberies where people had been followed home from the airport.

It was unclear at this stage if the man could be linked to Kalala’s murder, but police said he had been positively identified to the 10 cases during an ID parade.

“The target group is mostly foreign citizens, mostly West African people,” Malila said.

Malila said police were working with the Airports Company South Africa to probe whether these incidents were a result of inside information being passed on by South African airport staff or whether it originated in other countries.

Police have also struggled to follow up on these cases because of the relatively short period the victims are in the country.

“That is one of the challenges, complainants are leaving the country shortly after they have opened the case,” said Malila.

“We are calling on people to be vigilant when leaving airports and to contact police even if they feel they are being followed,” he added.

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