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KwaZulu-Natal - Two security officers were wounded in a shoot-out with a large gang using AK-47 and R-5 assault rifles after they drove into an ambush at a North Coast petrol station on Monday morning.
A third man, one of the robbers, was also shot in the firefight.
One officer was expected to undergo surgery on Monday to have his fingers amputated, after he was shot more than six times. Deon Chinnian, 35, is in a critical condition with wounds to his chest, hand and legs. Chinnian’s firearm, bulletproof vest, two-way radio and handcuffs were stolen.
A second security officer, Rubendra Chetty, 30, is also in hospital with serious injuries after he was beaten unconscious with an AK-47.
Officers from security company, Reaction Unit South Africa, were responding to a robbery by 10 to 15 men when they were ambushed by robbers hiding in bushes around a garage in Waterloo.
Innocent Dube, a security guard on duty at the garage, said the gang arrived at around 2am, saying they wanted to refuel. They were travelling in three vehicles – a BMW, a Honda Civic and a Toyota Corolla.
“I was inside the convenience store. Two of the men came inside. Both of them pulled out guns. One of them placed the gun to my back. He told the cashier to unlock the door to the cash office, or he would shoot me,” Dube explained.
He said the robbers forced him at gunpoint to lie on the floor. He managed to press a silent panic button in his pocket, to alert his control room to the robbery.
“The were speaking in Zulu. They said they did not want to hurt us. They just wanted the money. They had a huge angle grinder and (failed) to cut the safe open. ”
He said the robbers took R10 000 in cash and cigarettes from the convenience store, disconnected the CCTV cameras and took one of the recording devices.
“After about eight minutes, one of the robbers shouted that… they needed to get out.”
But when they disconnected the CCTV cameras, the robbers accidentally pulled out the plugs that operated the automated doors, locking themselves in the store.
“They were angry and started panicking. They then opened fire and shot the door down,” Dube said.
Spokesman for the security company, Prem Balram, said within two minutes of the panic button being activated, Chinnian and Chetty responded.
“Unfortunately, both my reaction officers were ambushed. More suspects were hiding in the bushes around the garage. They saw two of the vehicles in the garage and proceeded with caution.
“But the suspects outnumbered them. They came under heavy fire. More than 50 spent cartridges were found at the scene.”
He said Chetty was cornered by several of the suspects and severely assaulted.
“The guard said they wanted to kill him. But for some reason they changed their mind. Rubendra, who was shot and was bleeding, managed to drive out of the garage.
“It is a miracle how he did that because the fingers of his right hand were hanging by a thread. He drove about one kilometre down the road, to a colleague’s house. The suspects gave chase in the BMW.”
Balram said the injured officer managed to run for help.
“He collapsed inside the house of one of my workers. Fortunately, by that time back-up had arrived, but all the suspects fled. One of them was shot by Rubendra. The gang bundled him into the car and sped off.”
Balram described the gang as professional. They knew the workings and layout of the garage. He said there appeared to be a syndicate, targeting garages in Phoenix, Verulam and oThongathi.
“They arrived minutes before the weekend’s takings were put into the drop safe. No one has keys for the safe. They managed to escape with an undisclosed amount of cash (in addition to the R10 000 snatched from the store).”
Balram said he would have to change more than 100 of his two-way radios: “They have one of our radios and can listen in on our frequency. Plans are already in motion to replace the radios before the end of the day.”