Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

National police commissioner Gen Khehla John Sitole has assembled a top team of his best people to find the suspects who attacked the Ngcobo police station, between Mthatha and Queenstown, in the Eastern Cape.

Five police officials and an off-duty soldier were killed during the attack.

"I am appalled and deeply saddened by the cold and callous attack on our colleagues this morning‚" Sitole said on Wednesday.

"I have activated a task team comprising experienced detectives of the South African Police Service [SAPS] and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation to investigate this attack‚" he said.

The team will be supported by specialised units with the added support of the SAPS Air Wing.

"We will not rest until we have tracked down these heartless killers and bring them to book‚" Sitole vowed.

Describing the events as they unfolded‚ the police chief’s spokesperson, Brig Vishnu Naidoo, said in a statement that an unknown group of armed suspects entered the police station in the early hours of Wednesday morning and, without warning‚ randomly opened fire on the members on duty.

Three members were killed instantly in the community service centre. An off-duty soldier was also shot dead as the suspects were fleeing.

The suspects made off with a police van‚ taking two other members with them. The bodies of both these members with gunshot wounds were later found along the roadside‚ 6km from the police station.

Naidoo said: "According to preliminary investigations‚ it appears that members were shot execution style."

The national police commissioner has called on the community to assist with any information that could help identify and bring these perpetrators to book‚ "as this is a heartless attack on the state".

"While the motive for this attack is not clear yet‚ we have established that the suspects robbed an ATM a short distance away from the police station‚ [and] stole 10 firearms as well as a police van from the station."

Francois Beukman‚ chairperson of the portfolio committee on police‚ reacted to the attack, calling it "barbaric" and a "national tragedy".

"The attack and killing of police officers is an attack on the state and no stone must be left unturned to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has also labelled the mass murder an attack on the state. "We would like to see urgent action being taken in arresting these perpetrators‚" Popcru spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said.

Beukman’s committee extended its condolences to the families of the victims and called for the implementation of recommendations to make police stations safer.