Johannesburg - A Hawks officer trying to bring down a drug-trafficking ring - allegedly involving SAPS officers - was killed after a car chase and shootout between OR Tambo International Airport and Boksburg.

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said Warrant Officer Colbern Mashego had received information that he believed would allow him to catch the traffickers in the act.

The tip-off suggested that a vehicle carrying the drugs was set to be escorted by state-issued police vehicles - driven by police officers - from the airport to an unknown location far away.

Mashego arrived at the airport around 6pm on Sunday and identified the cars he believed would be escorting the drug carriers.

The men and their vehicles immediately fled the scene.

After a lengthy car chase into Boksburg, Mashego finally managed to get the men to pull over.

But the Hawks’s theory is that Mashego tried to approach the vehicle and was wounded in a shootout between himself and an SAPS officer, who then turned the gun on himself.

By the time the back-up Mashego had summoned arrived, both men were dead.

A police sergeant in uniform tried to flee from the bloody scene.

The back-up unit apprehended the man, who was believed to be in the car with the SAPS officer during the shootout.

The SAPS officer’s vehicle was searched, and the Hawks seized an undisclosed amount of drugs.

Mashego, a member of the narcotics bureau linked to the Hawks, had been investigating the trafficking ring for some time.

Mulaudzi described his death as a terrible loss to his community in Vosloorus, where he was a known activist and crime fighter.

On Monday, Hawks head Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza visited Mashego’s family to extend his condolences.

But despite the seemingly cut-and-dry version of events described by the Hawks, Mulaudzi said it would be up to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to probe any other theories, particularly that the shooting was an assassination.

On Sunday, Ntlemeza said he was deeply disturbed by the increase in the number of police killings, particularly in the Western Cape.

He said police attacks remained a priority crime as they threatened the safety of communities.

“We shall continue to relentlessly pursue all responsible in carrying out the directorate’s mandate of ensuring that all people are and feel safe in the country, an attack on a police officers is an attack on the state,” Ntlemeza said.

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The Star