South Africa's Minister of Police Bheki Cele at memorial service at the Ngcobo Methodist Church, in the Eastern Cape. Picture: ANA Reporter

Parliament - Newly sworn-in police minister Bheki Cele on Wednesday issued a stern warning to thugs targeting South African police officers - expect to be buried.

"We want to issue a strong warning that any military engagement by the thugs engaging SAPS  should be the one side that we go to bury after engagement and that side shall not be the South African Police Service," Cele said in the National Assembly where he gave more detail on the attack on the Ngcobo police station in the Eastern Cape last week in which five police officers and an off-duty soldier died.

According to Cele, the attack on the police station was part of an elaborate plot by a group of criminals to gain access to an ATM.

"The confession made by the suspects indicated that a group of eight individuals had conspired to rob the Capitec bank ATM situated diagonally opposite, right across the road from the Ngcobo police station."

"The police station was identified as an ideal source of firearms..."

One of the suspects, said Cele, had been tasked with luring a police patrol van out of town where the officer was ambushed by a group of men who lay in wait. He died on the scene.

"The group of individuals returned to Ngcobo and went straight to the police station where they shot two members inside the community service centre, fatally wounding them and removing their firearms," said Cele, adding that the female officers left standing were then forced to open the firearms safe.

"These were female members who were forced to walk and lie on the blood that was there of their colleagues."

While ransacking the station, making off with fireams and other items, another police patrol van arrived at the station. The two occupants of the vehicle were both shot dead.

"The group then proceeded to the Capitec bank with the intention of grinding the ATM and accessing the money. While they were grinding the safe, they were disturbed by another Saps patrol van that came from Mthatha area. "

According to Cele, the suspects fled the scene, and drove to a mountain behind the Ngcobo area where they buried the firearms. A group of hunters found the "shallow trench", but were confronted by the suspects.

Police later pounced on a church in the area, where they were met by gunfire. Police returned fire, killing seven people. Cele said three of the deceased have so far been linked to the attack on the police station.

Of the 37 suspects arrested on the church scene, five were linked to the crime.  

Forensic and ballistics analysis was continuing, said Cele, in a bid to "further link the arrested and deceased suspects" to the attack.

African News Agency/ANA