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Johannesburg - Police shot and killed one of their own on Monday. Two other officers are in a critical condition in hospital.
The tragedy, described as a case of mistaken identity, occurred at the corner of Claim and Bok streets in the Joburg CBD when uniformed police officers opened fire on two gun-wielding plainclothes cops.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said three robbers had tried to rob a Pakistani-owned shop at the corner of Smit and King George streets.
Two of the robbers were armed with 9mm pistols.
Two plainclothes liquor squad officers who were on patrol intervened and gave chase on foot, arresting the unarmed robber.
They issued an alert on the police radio as the two armed robbers fled through Hillbrow.
Three policemen driving by in a police van spotted a man at the corner of Edith Cavell and Pietersen streets, brandishing a weapon.
They shouted at him and he started running. Two of the officers got out of the van and gave chase.
The driver of the police van parked the vehicle and joined in the pursuit. As the three officers gained on the fleeing man, he turned and shot the driver in the throat. The other two officers continued their pursuit.
As the chase continued down Claim Street, two Jeppe policemen, who were driving by, saw what was happening.
“While the (Hillbrow policemen) were chasing the suspect, with their firearms drawn, police officers from the Jeppe police station confronted them and accidentally shot at them, as they suspected they were criminals running away,” said Dlamini.
When the shooting was over, two bodies lay on the ground. One police officer was dead, the other critically injured with a bullet wound to his torso.
The shooter who they had been pursuing was nowhere to be seen. Police do not even know if he was one of the two who had attempted to rob the shop.
“The suspects managed to flee the scene,” said Dlamini, who added that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate would be investigating the incident.
The identity of the dead police officer could not be revealed on Monday night as his family had not yet been notified. Dlamini said the two injured officers, whose conditions he described as critical, were 29 and 31 years old.
At the four-way stop a few metres from where the dead officer’s body lay, a crowd of bystanders and flat dwellers surrounded the bloody scene as pathologists examined the body, their blue gloves dripping with blood.
Afternoon traffic on Claim Street came to a standstill, with taxi drivers and pedestrians struggling to negotiate the congestion sparked by curiosity from passers-by and motorists.
“Go home now, there is nothing left to see,” said one officer, standing behind the crime-scene tape as the body was taken away.