Rugby player held after three are butchered in axe killings

A former professional rugby player from South Africa has been arrested after allegedly butchering three people with an axe in revenge for the gang rape of his daughter. The 34-year-old man, who used to play for the Blue Bulls, was seized by police in an early morning raid on a house in Durban.

Local news outlets reported that three men had been killed by the rugby star because he suspected that they were behind the gang rape of his daughter who has since tested HIV positive. A further two men were attacked by the man but survived.

The killings threaten to inflame race tensions in a country where anger often boils over following high-profile killings. Another Blue Bulls player, Bees Roux, was charged last year with murdering a black police officer. His trial is set for the late summer.

Police chiefs yesterday insisted that the suspect was black and that they had ruled out any racial motives for the crimes. But the killings have nonetheless prompted reams of racial anger on message boards and internet forums. Most online forums have assumed the former player is white.

Under South African law, suspects are only named once they appear in court and the suspect is expected to appear in court today. Local newspapers reported that they were aware of the man's identity but had agreed not to disclose it until proceedings begin.

Police said they arrested the man on Tuesday morning and recovered a 40cm (16in) long axe and bloodied clothing at his house.

"When they pounced on him they found an axe, which we believe is the murder weapon, clothes with blood stains and a hired car that we suspect he could have used during the alleged attacks," said police spokesman Vincent Mdunge. "He is currently being detained."

Residents of the Yellowwood Park, Lamontville and Umbilo suburbs or Durban said three men had been murdered last week in a crime spree that had terrified the local community. At least two of the men had been decapitated by their attacker with the head of one of the victims being found more than a mile from his body. Two people have come forward claiming that they were also attacked.

Khangelani Mdluli, a resident of Lamontville, said he was attacked by a man who was driving a Peugeot. "He stopped the car, jumped out with a plastic bag and walked down the road towards me I continued walking but I looked at the plastic bag and I thought it was a gun," the 27-year-old said.

Mr Mdluli said he was then asked whether he knew the man who shouted: "You think I'm stupid? You infected my daughter with HIV".

"As the axe came down towards my head, I ducked and it scratched my stomach," he recalled. "I started running down the road while he followed me and swore at me. He eventually gave up and turned back to his car."

One of the victims was named as Paulos "Ndodo" Hlongwa, a 46-year-old security guard who worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. His headless body was found just metres from his home, with a box of fried chicken that he had bought for his family.

Messages left on rugby fan forums have revealed how deeply racial tensions run through South African society when such high profile murders occur. "Give that man a [whiskey]," wrote one supporter. "I am happy to start a fundraiser for his legal fees."

Another fan, however, countered: "Very bad news for Blue Bulls and rugby's image. Perception is another white thug killing blacks."

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