Police and intelligence agencies are linking the disappearance of a Cape Town couple to a cell with ties to the global terror group ISIS.
The missing couple, whose names have been withheld by authorities, are understood to have been kidnapped while on holiday in KwaZulu-Natal.
In the wake of their disappearance, a man and woman – who had been held under surveillance by counter-terrorism agents – were arrested in a covert swoop in Vryheid in the northern KZN.
The suspects have been identified as 38-year-old Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel, 27.
Patel and Del Vecchio appeared in the Vryheid Magistrate’s court on Monday.
Patel was previously arrested – together with her brother Ebrahim – in Azaadville on the West Rand by the Hawks during anti-terrorism raids in July 2016, simultaneously with twin brothers with Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie.
The twins were accused of planning terrorist attacks at the behest of the Islamic State.
Their trial resumed in Johannesburg on Tuesday but was postponed to April 16.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation told TimesLIVE that Del Vecchio and Patel had used the affluent coastal hamlet of Ballito as a base, and that they were found in possession of Islamic state recruiting material.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said that while operatives had surveilled Patel and her partner, they gathered information allegedly linking them to the couple from Cape Town.
“Both had been on our radar for a long time. We had had them under surveillance and while this operation was under way, we gathered information on two people from Cape Town who had gone on a trip to the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal,” he said.
“The Cape Town couple had left the Western Cape on the 5th of February and they were expected to return on the 15th.
They were going on a trip to collect seeds and indigenous plants.”
Mulaudzi said police then approached the couple’s family, who had no idea that they were missing.
“We informed them about the disappearance of their loved ones, and they told us the couple last communicated with them on February 12.
We decided to stage an operation with the terrorism task force and we arrested two people in Vryheid,” he said.
“They are facing charges of kidnapping alternatively robbery and possible murder, arson in respect of several hectors of sugarcane fields they (allegedly) torched and destroyed in 2017, as well as possible contravention of Protection Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorists and Other Related Activities (POCDATARA).”
“The Priority Crime Litigation Unit (PCLU) from the NPA is providing assistance with the prosecution,” he said.
Mulaudzi said the Hawks are exploring all lines of inquiry and cannot comment further while the investigation is ongoing.
Patel had been out on bail after her arrest in 2016. When police raided a property in Azaadville on Gauteng’s West Rand, police seized 20 rounds of ammunition as well as 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.
Her attorney, Yoush Tayob, on Tuesday confirmed that Patel had appeared in court on Monday this week and had 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.
He said her 2016 matter was still before the Kagiso Magistrate’s Court, awaiting a ruling on the admissibility of evidence.
The Thulsie twins, allegedly linked to IS, have conversely been held in custody since their arrest in 2016.
They stand accused of plotting terror attacks on South African soil, including the bombing of the US embassy and Jewish institutions.
In the indictment before court, the twins were allegedly instructed to carry out a series of attacks using firearms, explosives and even poison.
Among the instructions from an ISIS figure, intercepted by counter-intelligence agencies, the twins were to kill affluent Jews and even assassinate cartoonist Zapiro for his
caricature of the Muslim prophet Mohammed.
Tony-Lee is accused of discussing terrorist plans with an undercover US Federal Bureau of Investigation agent between May and June 2016, during which time he sought advice on how to build bombs.
His brother is alleged to have acquired the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook.