Four Guards Killed by Robbers Who Torch Cash-Transit Van

Three security guards were burned to death and one was shot dead in robbery Friday that once again drew attention to the brutality of crime in South Africa.

Police spokeswoman Ronel Otto said four guards were transporting money to a bank in northern South Africa when four gunmen in a car forced the van off the road. The attackers fired several shots, killing one of the guards, and causing the vehicle to overturn.

Otto said the suspects doused the van with a flammable substance, leaving the three guards trapped inside to burn to death, before making off with an undisclosed amount of cash.

The suspects also set alight the car they used to force the security vehicle off the road, which was stolen, before fleeing in two other vehicles.

Otto said a massive man hunt was under way to trace the suspects. The security company that owned the vehicle has offered a 500,000-rand (about US$65,000; euro51,000) reward for information.

The government is desperate to counter the country's violent image, especially in the run up to the soccer World Cup it will host in 2010.

Official crime statistics released earlier this week showed a 74 percent increase - to 383 in the year ending in April from 220 in the previous year - in what is known as cash-in-transit heists like Friday's fatal robbery. Such robberies are believed to be the work of organized crime syndicates.

National police commissioner Jackie Selebi this week said organized crime was an increasing problem in South Africa but was at pains to reassure the public and businesses about the government's ability to combat it.

Selebi flew a top team of investigators to the scene of Friday's crime, and issued a statement expressing "anger and revulsion" at the "barbaric murder of four security guards."

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