Fire fighters fight a fire at Rhodes Memorial. March 17 2009 Photo by Michael Walker

Four people were bound and held hostage by armed robbers before fire engulfed a popular Observatory nightclub early on Friday morning.

Barmooda nightclub, at the corner of Lower Main and Station roads, was ablaze at about 2.40am.

Police confirmed witness reports that three men and a woman ran out of the burning building with their hands bound with cable ties.

“They were screaming for someone to cut the cable ties. The woman was hysterical. After the cable ties were cut, the people disappeared,” a witness said today.

Police spokesman November Filander said: “It has been alleged that two unidentified males entered the club with firearms and held four cleaners hostage. (They) were handcuffed and taken to the back of the building and robbed of their cellphones and personal belongings.”

Another witness said he saw two men enter the building through a side door. The men came out five minutes later and waited at a car which sped off after the explosion, he said.

A third witness at the scene, who had heard reports of an explosion and visited the premises, said the nightclub’s steel shutters and plate-glass windows had been blown out and landed 15 metres down the road.

Police said they suspected petrol bombs were used to burn down the nightclub but they did not confirm witness reports of an explosion.

Filander said the cleaners were unharmed but traumatised, and police were investigating arson.

No arrests have been made.

The club owners could not be contacted this morning but a statement was issued on Barmooda’s Facebook page: “By now u must have heard the sad rumours. Barmooda was set alight tonight and burned down and there’s nothing left.

“Staff were hurt and its an emotional time for the Barmooda family. We appreciate words of support and good wishes. And please take into consideration some people were hurt tonight. The owner apologises for any inconvenience caused with regards to bookings and events.”

Theo Layne, spokesman for the city’s Fire and Rescue Services said all occupants of the building had been safely evacuated and no injuries were reported. “The fire caused extensive damage to the interior furnishings and inside roof of the building,” said Layne. It took 19 firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

Nathan Ladegourdie, spokesman for the city’s Liquor Enforcement described Barmooda as a “problematic” establishment.

“We have previously issued them a fine for operating without an entertainment licence. They have also been given a written warning for violating the streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisance bylaw,” he said.

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Cape Argus