Durban terror accused: Questions we need answered
Press and public shut out as 19 appear in court in a case that bears more hallmarks of an urban terror probe
An extortion syndicate, accused of plotting a bloody knife attack at a Verulam mosque and planting fire bombs across Durban, are facing terrorism-related charges, but their court appearances are happening under a veil of secrecy.
The 19, arrested in a series of Hawks raids at the weekend, appeared in a sealed court in Verulam on Tuesday. Neither the media nor the public are being allowed in.
The investigation that led to their arrest, and the manner in which their court appearance has been handled by those in authority, bear more of the hallmarks of an urban terror investigation.
Police, members of the Hawks’ counter-terror squad and specialist prosecutors have been roped in and have shuttered out the prying eyes of victims, the public and the press.
Heavily armed members of the police’s elite National Intervention Unit patrol the court grounds and the glass doors of the courtroom have been boarded up.
The names of the accused have even been redacted from the charge sheet, an otherwise public document.
The alleged conspirators face charges of murder, arson and now additional counts under the banner of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (POCDATARA).
Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, accused of plotting terror attacks on SA soil and arrested in 2016, have also been charged under the act.
Azaad Seedat, chairman of the Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam and the target of the group’s alleged first strike, poured cold water on the assertion that extortion was the motive.
“We were targeted because of our faith ... because we are Shia. There was no other reason to attack us. No one ever threatened us and asked us for money so I don’t know where this extortion theory comes from,” he said.
“This was a pure hate crime and an act of terror carried out against us because of our beliefs.”
Mechanic Abbas Essop was killed by knife-men at the mosque during the attack on May 11.
The father of two, on hearing the screams of Imam Ali Nchiyane‚ had charged into the building.
The men stabbed Nchiyane and disembowelled another man before setting the mosque’s library alight.
When Essop intervened the attackers duct-taped his mouth and slit his throat. He died in hospital.
Seedat said that he, along with Essop’s family, had been barred from seeing the alleged conspirators of the mosque attack.
“All we have at this point is rumours of family names of those who are supposed to be involved, but rumours is all we have,” he said.
“We are excited to see who these people are and who is responsible for bringing this hurt on us. We have complete faith in the justice system and we would implore the state to oppose bail at every stage of this matter.”
In the months that followed the attack several incendiary devices – rudimentary in nature – were planted at Woolworths stores and food markets. Some were triggered and caused minor fires. A number of stores were temporarily closed following anonymous bomb threats.
In a press briefing last week Police Minister Bheki Cele said extortion was likely the motive, alluding that more sinister forces could be at play.