Police arrested around 40 people and seized 40 firearms, including rifles, shotguns and handguns, related to the attack.

Three of the suspects believed to be involved in the attack on the International Pentecostal Holiness church are security personnel with the South African police service.
Three of the suspects believed to be involved in the attack on the International Pentecostal Holiness church are security personnel with the South African police service. (Twitter/ @Abramjee)

Five people were killed in an attack on a church west of Johannesburg in the early hours of Saturday, South African police said, with some of the attackers taking hostages who were later freed.

Police arrested around 40 people and seized 40 firearms, including rifles, shotguns and handguns, related to the attack on the International Pentecost Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo told the eNCA television station.

A statement said police and military who responded to reports of a shooting at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church headquarters in Zuurbekom found four people “shot and burned to death in a car” and a security guard shot in another car. Six other people were injured.

Police said they rescued men, women and children who had been held hostage and appeared to have been living at the church.

It was not clear how many were rescued.

Feud?

The attack by a group of armed people “may have been motivated by a feud” between church members, the police statement said.

The church is one of the largest — and reportedly richest — in South Africa.

Photos tweeted by the police showed more than a dozen men lying on the ground, subdued, along with rifles, pistols, a baseball bat and boxes of ammunition —including at least one marked “law enforcement."

The response by security forces "averted what could have been a more severe bloodbath," national police commissioner Khehla John Sitole said.

Among those arrested were members of the police, defence forces and correctional services.

"(E)verything was in complete disarray, so we have arrested all those that we reasonably believe are suspects, we are busy interviewing and interrogating them to establish exactly what the motive was," Naidoo told eNCA. 

The church's Zuurbekom headquarters has been the scene of violence between factions more than once in recent years, with shots fired, rocks thrown and cars smashed, according to local news reports.

“Trouble has been brewing at the church following the death of its leader‚ Glayton Modise‚ in February 2016,” The Sowetan newspaper reported in 2018.

Police earlier posted pictures of some of the confiscated weapons on Twitter, saying they were dealing with a "hostage situation and shooting".

Source: TRTWorld and agencies