Officers in South Africa have killed 18 suspected robbers during a shootout in Limpopo province, according to police.

The suspects were believed to be planning a cash truck heist, also called a cash-in-transit (CIT) heist, and were responsible for similar crimes in other provinces, National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola said on Friday from the crime scene in South Africa’s northernmost province.

“We do believe this syndicate has been involved in a number of CITs in this province, Mpumalanga and Gauteng,” Masemola told reporters in Makhado, about 400km (250 miles) northeast of Johannesburg.

One police officer was “injured very seriously” in the shootout, which lasted about 90 minutes, he added.

According to police, who had been tracking the suspects’ movements for a few days, an investigation began in January with the help of the country’s intelligence unit.

“As soon as police approached the address, the group of suspects began shooting, police retaliated,” the South African Police Service said in a statement. “Sixteen males and two females were declared dead at the scene.”

Masemola told reporters that police intended “to arrest them before they go out and commit the crime”.

High crime rate

Cash truck heists happen regularly in the crime-ridden country.

Last year, 10 suspects died during a cash-in-transit shootout with police after the would-be robbers fired at a police helicopter and wounded one of the pilots.

In May, Police Minister Bheki Cele said there was a “stubborn increase” in cash-in-transit robberies of more than 20 percent with 64 cases reported during the first three months of the year.

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