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EXCLUSIVE | Man and woman with alleged links to ISIS arrested in KZN

20 February 2018 - 12:04 By Jeff Wicks
Iraqi fighters stand next to a wall bearing the Islamic State group flag in the city of al-Qaim, near the Syrian border, in November 2017.
Iraqi fighters stand next to a wall bearing the Islamic State group flag in the city of al-Qaim, near the Syrian border, in November 2017.

Police and intelligence agencies have linked 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 northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The suspects have been identified as Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27.

Patel and Del Vecchio 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. 

Their trial resumed in Johannesburg on Tuesday but was postponed to April 16.

Both had been on our radar for a long time.
Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi

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 Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi said that during surveillance of Patel and her partner, operatives had 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 February 5 and they were expected to return on February 15. 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 had 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 hectares of sugar-cane fields they [allegedly] torched and destroyed in 2017; as well as possible contraventions of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.”

“The Priority Crime Litigation Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority is providing assistance with the prosecution,” he said.  

Mulaudzi said the Hawks were exploring all lines of inquiry and could not comment further while the investigation continued.

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, Yoush 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.

He said Patel's 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 been held in custody since their arrest in 2016. They stand accused of plotting terror attacks on South African soil, including the bombings 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 also 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 a copy of The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook.