• Gunmen killed 21 people in three bars across South Africa in "random" attacks, police said.
  • The attacks took place over the weekend in Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg.
  • Authorities said they found at least 140 empty bullet cartridges at one of the shooting locations.

At least 21 people were killed in mass shootings at three bars in South Africa over the weekend, in what authorities say were attacks involving gunmen who randomly fired on patrons.

Police are still trying to establish a link between the three shootings, two of which took place in Johannesburg and one in the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg.

On Saturday evening, five gunmen armed with rifles and handguns arrived at a bar in the Nomzamo Informal settlement in Johannesburg's Orlando East neighborhood, police said.

They randomly shot 23 patrons inside the bar, killing 12 people on the scene, police added. Three more shooting victims later died in hospital.

Police Minister General Bheki Cele said investigators found over 140 empty cartridges on the scene, which the South African Government News Agency reported included 135 empty AK-47 cartridges.

"It was a brutal war in there and quite clear that these murderers wanted to kill as many people as possible," Cele said.

Police officers enforce a perimeter around the scene where 15 people were fatally shot on Sunday. Foto: EMMANUEL CROSET/AFP via Getty Images

Just two hours before the attack in Orlando East, two men had entered a bar in Sweetwaters, Pietermaritzburg, and randomly opened fire on the patrons there, shooting 12 people, police said. They added that two patrons died at the scene while another two died later.

The night before, four attackers killed another two people in a tavern in the Katlehong district of Johannesburg, per South African outlet News24. At least one of the four attackers was armed with a pistol and shot randomly at patrons, local police spokesperson Colonel Dimakatso Sello said, per News24.

As of Monday, South African authorities said they arrested two suspects in connection to the shooting in Pietermaritzburg but haven't detained anyone for the attacks in Johannesburg.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the killings on Sunday, calling them "unacceptable and worrying."

"As a nation, we cannot allow violent criminals to terrorise us in this way, regardless of where such incidents may occur," he said in a statement.

Many bars in South Africa are unlicensed establishments called shebeens that date back to the apartheid era when Black South Africans were prohibited from entering licensed bars. They have become notorious for being sites of violence and risky sexual behavior because they operate late into the night without oversight, per the World Health Organization.

According to World Bank data, South Africa has one of the world's highest murder rates, with 33 murders per every 100,000 people in 2020, compared to seven out of 100,000 people in the US in the same year.

Last month, 22 teenagers, some as young as 13, were mysteriously found dead in a bar in East London on South Africa's eastern cape. Cele said police had not determined how they died, but survivors were reported saying they had smelled a substance close to tear gas or pepper spray in the bar.

Read the original article on Insider