Missing UK couple linked to terror arrests in rural KZN
Mystery surrounds the link between a missing British couple and an alleged international terror group uncovered in the rural heartland of KwaZulu-Natal
If the herds of Nguni cattle in the northern KwaZulu-Natal farming districts of Vryheid could talk, they probably would shed some light on the link between a missing British couple and a suspected cell of the international terror group Isis.
But the prize brown cows that dot the dusty rural landscape are mum – just like the Hawks – about the identity of the elderly holidaymakers, their fate or why they were seemingly abducted by a group with links to the Islamic state.
As a man and woman were arrested in a covert swoop in Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal after being held under surveillance by the Hawks’ counter-terrorism unit, it emerged that the pair could be linked to a missing couple from Cape Town.
The British nationals, who live in Cape Town, are understood to have left their home on February 5 on a driving tour of the Free State and the northern expanses of KwaZulu-Natal.
They never returned home and now the two terror suspects – Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel – are also facing kidnapping charges.
But it remains a mystery why the couple would have been abducted.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the couple, whose identities have been withheld so as not to compromise the high-level probe, had been abducted on the outskirts of Vryheid.
He said the couple had unwittingly become entwined in matters of state security, a fact that was uncovered when agents were surveilling a ring of people with alleged links to international terrorist groups.
“It was through our initiative that we discovered that the couple from Cape Town were missing. We had been monitoring these suspect individuals for several months and they had been on our radar for a while when we gathered this information [about the two holidaymakers].”Mulaudzi said the agents had then made contact with relatives of the couple, who said that the pair’s travels were expected to bring them back to the Western Cape on February 15.
“The relatives told us that they had not heard from the husband and wife since February 12. They did not even know anything was wrong. We decided to launch an operation on Friday last week in Vryheid in which we arrested two suspects,” he said.
“So far both of the people are still missing. Even the car that they were using is gone,” he said.
The prime suspects in the disappearance have been identified as Del Vecchio, 38, and Patel, 27, who both appeared in the Vryheid Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Patel was previously arrested – with her brother Ebrahim – in Azaadville on the West Rand by the Hawks during anti-terrorism raids in July 2016. Also arrested at the time were twin brothers Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, accused of planning terrorist attacks at the behest of the Islamic State.
Patel had been out on bail after her arrest in 2016. When police raided the property in Azaadville, police seized 20 rounds of ammunition and a stun grenade.
She and her brother were charged with contravening the Explosives Act and Firearms Control Act. Both were released on R5,000 bail.
On Tuesday, Patel’s attorney, Yousha Tayob, confirmed she had appeared in court on Monday and been remanded in custody.
“I have instructed an attorney in Durban to represent her and we are still trying to examine the provisional charge sheet. I am hearing that they have been charged with kidnapping, robbery and flying an Isis flag at a public event. We should know more ahead of the bail application in March,” he said.
The high-profile prosecution of Del Vecchio and Patel, Mulaudzi said, would be handled by a specialist team from the National Prosecuting Authority.
“The Priority Crime Litigation Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority is providing assistance with the prosecution,” he said.
The Zululand Observer on Monday reported that a raid was conducted by Hawks members on a homestead in Ngoye, near Eshowe.
The paper quoted sources that said explosives and vehicles had been seized, and had been linked to an international security threat.
Mulaudzi poured cold water on the claims, insisting that there had been no link.