JOHANNESBURG 

Five people were killed outside a church near the South African capital as a hostage situation played out early on Saturday, local police announced.

Four men who were shot dead and burned in a vehicle outside the compound of the International Pentecostal Holiness church located west of Johannesburg, with a security guard responding to a complaint at the church also shot and killed in his vehicle, police spokesman Vish Naidoo told local broadcaster eNCA.

“We are investigating multiple murders,” said Naidoo, adding that members of a special police task force had rescued about 200 people who had reportedly been taken hostage inside the church.

“We also recovered over 40 firearms, including rifles, shotguns and hand guns. We are also investigating the possibility of them being in possession of firearms unlawfully,” he said.

Naidoo said police also arrested over 40 suspects allegedly involved in the hostage-taking, with six currently in the hospital being treated for gunshot wounds.

Three of the suspects are security personnel with the South African police service, South African National Defense Force and Johannesburg Metro police.

According to preliminary investigations, the attack was linked to a leadership dispute in the church.

“The initial group that allegedly attacked this church said they were here to take over the premises,” Naidoo said.

“We also have information that there are conflicting groups within the church and that might be a possibility of a motive but we don’t want to elaborate too much on the motive,” he added.

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