How the ‘hatman’ helped cops unearth Islamic State terror cell in SA
Burundian a key figure in nabbing 12 accused in Verulam mosque attack and bomb attacks case
Iddy Omari had been dubbed “hatman” by the team of detectives who pursued him, a moniker derived from his silhouetted figure and signature black hat caught on grainy CCTV footage.
Cameras at the Woolworths outlet in Umhlanga’s Gateway shopping complex showed “hatman” acting as a lookout and driver for two others who had slipped into the store and quietly planted a fire bomb on the shelves.
Months later, after Omari’s arrest in a counter-terror swoop, the “hatman” would become a key figure in unearthing what the state described as a deeply rooted Islamic State terror cell operating on SA soil.
Omari is one of 12 men accused of operating the cell, which police say is responsible for a bloody attack on the Imam Hussain mosque in Verulam in May, and a string of bomb attacks that followed.
The men – Ahmed Haffejee‚ Thabit Mwenda‚ Mohamad Akbar‚ Seiph Mohamed‚ Amani Mayani‚ Abubakar Ali‚ Abbas Jooma‚ Mahammed Sobruin and Ndikumana Shabani – made applications on Tuesday to be released on bail‚ all of which the state has strongly opposed.
In court papers before the Verulam Magistrate’s Court, Hawks investigating officer Khwezi Chonco revealed how the 38-year-old Burundian had unveiled the IS plot in a statement he has since recanted.
“Iddy provided detectives with a warning statement, which he has since retracted. In the statement he admitted that he was introduced to Farhad Hoomer by a friend. Hoomer invited him to pray with a group of Muslims at a house in Reservoir Hills where the group met for over a year,” his affidavit reads.
Omari had, Chonco said, identified his co-accused as members of a group supporting IS, with Hoomer as the hidden hand in control.
“He stated that he had been instructed to pick up two men from Winder Street in the city centre and drive them to wherever they needed to be. He stated that he later found out they had transported incendiary devices to two Woolworths stores, including the outlet at Gateway.”
Omari lived in the Nugget Road home which Chonco holds was used as a terror training camp, complete with eight IS flags.
The property is owned by Hoomer.
In his affidavit, Omari claims to have been tortured by police.
Businessman Goolam Haffejee‚ alleged to have colluded with his cousin and co-accused Ahmed Haffejee – the son of a prominent Durban physician – as well as Hoomer‚ has already been released on R100‚000 bail.
Jasmine Opperman, of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, said the presence of IS in SA should not come as a surprise.
“What is of concern are statements referring to an organised presence willing to execute attacks. The implication is that South Africa is now more than a recruitment and financial hub."
She said the attacks in Durban were not congruent with the normal modus operandi of the terror group.
“Attacks, sophisticated or otherwise, are made to kill, with the attackers sending a message stating allegiance to the group and, ultimately, to gain martyrdom by death. Why were these absent in the Durban bombings and Veralum attack? The court case will have to provide evidence for such contradictions,” she said.
The spectre of an SA terror cell has been raised before, following the disappearance of prominent Cape Town botanists Rod and Rachel Saunders.
Alleged IS loyalists Sayfudeen Aslam Del Vecchio, his wife Fatima Patel and Ahmad “Bazooka” Mussa are alleged to have kidnapped and murdered the British-born botanists.
The three are alleged to have drained the Saunders’ bank accounts and then murdered them, before dumping the bodies from a bridge into a crocodile-infested river.
The elderly couple were last seen on February 10 near Bivane Dam on the outskirts of Vryheid in KZN.
In his papers, Chonco went on to allege that Haffejee, a businessman, had ties to Bazooka.
“He [Haffejee] is linked to Ahmed Jackson Mussa, who is a co-accused in the Del Vecchio matter,” he said. Their bail application, before magistrate Irfaan Khalil, is expected to continue on Thursday.