Johannesburg, 28 March 2017 – A massive weapons cache discovered in a dilapidated building in Randburg on Monday has left police questioning whether more than 60 mortar bombs and numerous other weapons could be part of a potential terrorist plot.
Shocked bystanders lined Dover Street as police combed the scene, where contractors who were working on the building discovered the weapons in its basement.
Police spokesperson Mavela Masondo said the room where the weapons were found had not been occupied for some time.
“Unused items”, which he could not name, were also discovered in the basement room.
“The contractors noticed a bag that looked suspicious and contacted the police. Police searched the bag and found explosives,” he said.
These included 60 mortar bombs, seven rifles (AK47s and R5s), 12 revolvers and several pistols. Serial numbers had been filed off. The cache also contained homemade weapons, some showing signs of rust.
The cache was discovered around 11am, and the building’s manager arrived at 6.30pm, refusing to speak to the media.
“We think the bombs could have been used to commit crime. For now we are not sure who is the owner of the weapons, but investigations continue. No arrest has been made,” Masondo said.
Asked if police were investigating a terrorism link, he said: “We can’t rule that out, but it will form part of the investigation. For now, we cannot confirm if this is linked to terrorism but we can confirm that there is one suicide bomb vest.”
Police were also searching for the previous owners of the building.
“There are people staying in the flats. We are trying to establish who are the tenants. It happened during the day and most of them were not home, so we are waiting for them to arrive and we’ll interview them one by one,” Masondo said.
A street trader in the area, who asked not to be identified, said he was made aware of the discovery by one of the workmen on the site.
“He came running and bought a cigarette from me. He told me they had found the bombs in the building. About 30 minutes later, police arrived here and told us to clear the area. I had to abandon my goods, but luckily nothing was stolen,” he said.
He said the building had been sold late last year.
“When the new owners came in, they kicked out all the tenants – most of them were foreigners. Most of the people living here have been here since December and some of the units are still unoccupied,” he said.
The teams of police officers blocked sections of Dover Street until late on Monday night.