R5 rifle.Photo: Phill Magakoe
R5 rifle.Photo: Phill Magakoe

‘Cops arm ATM bombers’

By Graeme Hosken Time of article published Nov 10, 2010

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‘Some of those among us are the very crooks who supply these thugs with the very weapons they use to kill us,” were the hard-hitting words of a Pretoria policeman who had been shot by criminals with a police-issue R5 semi-automatic rifle.

The scathing attack by Mamelodi East student constable Phuti Thopane comes after he and detective Abel Mahagalala narrowly escaped death on Monday night when they were ambushed by at least 15 men outside Mahube Maxcity as they raced to investigate an armed robbery.

Unbeknown to the two, gunmen wearing balaclavas had taken up strategic positions outside and around the centre, waiting for them.

The gunmen, armed with R5s, were part of a gang in the process of blowing up two Absa ATMs. The two ATMs were among four blown up by gangs of armed robbers across the city in less than an hour.

The two policemen believe the gunmen had received information via police radios from crooked cops telling them about their approach and describing the vehicle they were driving. “They didn’t shoot at other cars. They waited for us, and when we came, they simply blasted us.

“It was like a war zone. They were everywhere. There were people shooting at us from behind, in front and the side.

“They were in the perfect kill position and knew what they were doing,” Thopane said from his hospital bed.

His words were echoed by Mahagalala. Thopane is recovering in hospital after he was shot in the buttocks. The bullet just missed his spine.

The policemen’s anger comes less after newly appointed Gauteng provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mzwandile Petros called an urgent crime summit in Pretoria two months ago to lay out plans on how to beat crime in the province.

The summit was called after ATM bombers gangs laid siege to the capital, blowing up 11 ATMs in less than four weeks in August and September.

During Petros’s boast about how crime would be beaten through high police visibility and how criminals’ lives would be made “uncomfortable”, he said ATMs would not be blown up if police were on the streets.

Petros was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

Thopane said the attack was over within minutes. “It was lighting fast. These guys were very professional.”

While Thopane lay bleeding in their bullet-riddled car, he frantically radioed his colleagues, who were following close behind, to warn them of the ambush. “All I could think about was my colleagues driving into what we had just survived. I was terrified that my friends were going to die.”

Thopane said the thugs fled in four cars, including a BMW fitted with police blue lights and a siren.

Mahube Maxcity centre manager Clifford Modishane confirmed that at least one of the bombers’ vehicles was fitted with blue lights and a siren. “When the attack began, our security manager at first thought it was police doing a patrol.

“Then the guards radioed for back-up and said they were being attacked by gunmen in the ‘police car’. As some gunmen were blowing up the ATMs, others hiding near the gates and along the road began shooting at police who we called for help.

“It was chaos, with bullets flying everywhere,” Modishane said.

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Ben Strydom confirmed the gunmen had been armed with police-issue R5 rifles and that at least one of the four vehicles had been fitted with blue lights and a siren.

“Other police who spotted the suspects gave chase, but they crashed their car and the robbers escaped.

“We are investigating a strong possibility that those involved in the attack were police members,” he said.

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Lolo Mangena said gunmen had blown up two ATMs at the Batho Plaza in Soshanguve Block S. The men robbing the ATMs fled in a black BMW X5, a blue Renault and another car. The suspects escaped with an undisclosed amount of money. - Pretoria News

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