A group of six prisoners escaped from a police van in South Africa on Friday after it was attacked by armed gunman. The van was heading to a court in the suburbs of Johannesburg, police said, as they launched a manhunt for them.

“The police have launched a manhunt after six detainees escaped. The detainees escaped on their way to the Vosloorus courthouse,” the police said in a statement, about 30km southeast of the capital.

The van was ambushed at a crossroads “by three armed men” driving a luxury car.

According to the police, five of the inmates who escaped are Zimbabweans who were due to be arraigned in the morning on charges of armed robbery, attempted murder and illegal possession of a firearm.

The sixth man, a South African, was due to appear in court for the first time for shoplifting.

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