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41 church siege suspects charged with murder

AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER

A lawyer, a police officer and a soldier are among the 41 suspects who have appeared in court in connection with the hostage drama at a church in Johannesburg, South Africa, which left five people dead.

The suspects – arrested in connection with an attack on the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) headquarters – have spent two days in awaiting-trial detention cells while waiting for their next appearance where they are expected to apply for bail.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the 41 made their first appearance at the Westonaria Magistrates Court on Monday and were charged with murder, attempted murder and malicious damage to property.

NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said the two of the suspects were injured during a cross-fire between the alleged assailants and the church’s security officials. “They are currently hospitalised and will appear in court as soon as they are released from hospital,” Mjonondwane said.

Bishop Leonard Modise, leader of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) has blamed “deceitful forces of darkness that use violence in an attempt to hijack” the church for the hostage drama that left five people dead, several injured and 47 arrested.

A hostage drama ensued at the crack of dawn on Saturday when heavily armed men in several cars besieged the IPHC headquarters in Silo, Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg. The hostages were rescued hours later by the police.

Bishop Modise condemned the attack and said: “We are deeply saddened that on this special day of the Sabbath, our sacred land was violated and defiled in the manner that it was. The elders that came before me built a legacy based on love and peace. I call upon all children of the true Comforter of the IPHC to see this as a moment of reckoning…see this as God calling on you to turn your back on the deceitful forces of darkness that use violence and any evil means necessary to hijack our Comforter’s good legacy for personal and evil gain.”

Mpho Makwana, the secretary of the IPHC Church council said the hostage takers were led by two disgruntled by two former members of the church. Makwana quoted two eyewitnesses – security guards at the church headquarters – who said the assailants arrived at 01:30am disguised as police officers, led by a BMW 3-series, flanked by two Toyota Quantum minibuses. He said they were denied entry at the main gate and gained entrance by using a separate gate created for trucks and suppliers.  

The South African Police Service said the incident took place at the IPHC around 3am. A total of 34 firearms – five rifles, 16 shotguns and 13 pistols – were seized. 

The police said four people were found shot and burnt to death in a car while a fifth victim, a security guard, was shot dead in his car. 

Factions wanting to control the church, which has over three million members, have clashed repeatedly since the 2016  death of the Bishop of the church Glayton Modise. 

Modise took over the church after the death of its founder and his father Frederick Samuel Modise