Mystery upon mystery as blood found in couple's car
Anti-terror cops scramble to find couple who vanished after visit to Zululand bush lodge
A team of international and local anti-terrorism cops as well as hostage negotiators are desperately piecing together the last known movements of a missing Cape Town couple thought to have been abducted by acolytes of terror group Isis.
The couple left their last trace at a secluded bush lodge in the rolling hills of Zululand in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
It was in the dry heat of the valley that police believe they were taken and held against their will. The couple have not yet been found.
What befell the couple from the time their 4X4 made the arduous climb on a gravel road out of the valley is unknown.
Their car, a key piece of evidence in the police search, was found in Waterloo, north of Durban, on Sunday night.
Blood evidence was recovered, say sources.Several days after their vanishing last week, Hawks counter-terror operatives swooped on a man and woman after protracted surveillance.
The suspects, Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27, remain at the centre of the high-level probe. The two, who appeared in the Vryheid Magistrate’s Court on Monday, face charges related to terrorism, abduction and possibly murder.
They will appear in court again next week.
How their paths crossed with the couple remains shrouded in mystery, as police scramble to decode the days and hours between the time the well-known botanists left Cape Town and the time they were last seen.
Times Select has established that three days after the pair left their Cape Town home, they checked into the secluded Bivane Dam Nature Reserve outside Vryheid.
An employee, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that the husband and wife had stayed only one night.
“They arrived on a Thursday in the morning and they left after only a night. They paid in cash and they said they were in a big hurry,” she said.They had pitched their tent in a bush campsite named Soetdoring in a valley on the banks of a river that runs off the Bivane Dam.
“I could tell that they were obviously foreigners because of the accent. They just paid us and left. Only afterwards did the police contact us...,” she said.
It is understood they were due back in Cape Town on February 15, and that a police hostage negotiator is the only source of information on their fate.
Family and friends contacted by the police have been instructed not to speak to the media.
Times Select believes that no ransom demands have been made, and that police are unsure whether the couple are alive or dead.
Neighbours said the former Britons were “constantly travelling” and rarely at home. They appeared to be prosperous, said one, adding that they always bought their new vehicles for cash.
They were “very private” and did not have children, “only cats”.
Well-known horticulturalist and TV personality Keith Kirsten said the couple had been travelling with a BBC film crew immediately prior to their disappearance while camping in the Ithala district outside Pietermaritzburg.
“They simply disappeared into thin air,” said Kirsten, who is also the vice-chairman of the Kirstenbosch section of the Botanical Society, of which the couple were members.
“Their friends and family are distraught. They are helleva nice people.”Martin Hutton-Squire, chairman of the Cape Town division of the Mountain Club South Africa, confirmed the couple were popular members of the club.
“They are a delightful couple – they wouldn’t do harm to a fly. I’m very disturbed to hear the news (of their disappearance),” Hutton-Squire said.
Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha said that owing to the “ongoing investigations and the sensitive nature of the probe”, they were unable to offer comment on details specific to the case.
“The lives of two people are at stake here. Due to operational reasons and ongoing investigations we are not in a position to talk about intricacies related to the case,” he said.
The UK government on Monday updated its online travel advisory for South Africa, citing the abduction of the pair.
“Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in South Africa. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners such as shopping areas in major cities,” it read.“The main threat is from extremists linked to Daesh (formerly referred to as Isil). In February 2018, two South African-British nationals were kidnapped.”
They advised that South African authorities have successfully disrupted several planned attacks and made a number of arrests related to terrorism offences, including alleged plots to attack Jewish targets and western diplomatic missions.
“South African authorities have also been effective against right-wing extremists. There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.”