DURBAN 31032014 Hostage drama, Tongaat. PICTURE: Jacques Naude

Durban - An armed robber was shot dead in Tongaat, north of Durban, in a hostage drama on Monday.

The robber, and at least four accomplices, attempted to rob Marshalls World of Sport, a gambling and betting shop.

A police officer was wounded in the face during the shooting.

The police reaction unit’s Prem Barlam, who was at the scene, said the robbery turned into a hostage situation when the police arrived and instructed the suspects to exit the shop.

“Approximately 20 patrons were used as human shields while the suspects hid behind them. When officers instructed everyone to lie down, the suspects opened fire,” he said.

Police spokesman Thulani Zwane confirmed the roberry.

“The suspects opened fire on the police, and when the police retaliated one suspect was shot and three others, aged between 23 and 31, were arrested,” he said.

At least one robber is known to have escaped.

“It’s unclear if he was part of the group because it was so chaotic, it was hard to identify all of them,” Barlam said.

He said the suspects robbed customers of their valuables.

“A large amount of cash and cellphones were stolen from staff,” he said.

Barlam said a policeman, who was in the shop, had been robbed of his cellphone and two magazines of ammunition.

“The policeman managed to hide his firearm and spare cellphone, which he used to contact the police,” he said.

The centre’s security guard, who declined to give his name, said he was standing at the top, front gate when he heard screams from the shop.

“I immediately suspected it was a robbery and I rushed down to lock the back gate which the suspects had used,” he said.

“Police arrived within a minute, and that’s when the robbers started shooting.”

Zwane said a case of armed robbery, possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, and attempted murder had been opened.

“Two firearms, a pistol and a revolver were recovered. Items stolen during the robbery were recovered,” he said.

The Mercury