Terror suspect moved from Westville Prison to C-Max in secret transfer

22 March 2018 - 13:41 By Jeff Wicks
Kokstad's eBongweni C-Max Prison. File photo.
Kokstad's eBongweni C-Max Prison. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times/ THULI DLAMINI.

A threat to Durban’s Westville prison is thought to have prompted the secretive move of terror suspect and alleged Isis acolyte Sayfydeen Aslam del Vecchio to Kokstad’s Ebongweni “C-Max” prison last week.

The Verulam regional court heard on Thursday that 38-year-old Del Vecchio had been hastily shifted to the secure and isolated facility‚ unbeknownst to his legal team‚ prosecutors or Hawks investigators.

The facility is South Africa’s only super-maximum security prison and is regarded as one of the most secure in the southern hemisphere.

Located in the southern reaches of the province‚ the prison is home to some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.

There are no communal cells and offenders spend 23 hours a day locked behind solid metal doors — and when they do leave the cells‚ their shackles are never removed. The cells are underground‚ with the surface housing offices and other administrative buildings. If a prisoner makes an attempt at escape‚ the intricate security web around the facility is likely to put a swift end to it.

Del Vecchio’s mysterious move was highlighted by defence advocate Jay Naidoo‚ who said that his client had been moved without any notification.

Prison authorities claimed‚ he said‚ that the move came after a request from the prosecution team. “We have not been able to consult with our client and prepare an application for bail. It is highly inconvenient because it takes three hours to travel there from Durban‚” he said.

State advocate Adele Barnard refuted this‚ saying that they too had been unaware of Del Vecchio’s move to the maximum security facility. She said that “speculation” around the reason for the move‚ conveyed to the investigating officer by Correctional Services officials‚ was that Del Vecchio’s presence compromised the safety and security of Westville prison.

Magistrate Vallaraman Kathuravaloo denied an application by Naidoo to order that Del Vecchio be rehoused at Westville‚ saying that the discretion of prisoner placement rested with the Department of Correctional Services. He and his co-accused‚ Fatima Patel and Themba Xulu‚ are alleged to have masterminded the abduction of missing Cape Town couple Rod and Rachel Saunders.

An affidavit deposed by the investigating officer plotted out what may have been the Saunders’ final days‚ and gave grave insight into what may have befallen them.

According to the statement‚ police mined evidence of communication between Del Vecchio‚ Patel and a third person‚ a man with the alias “Bazooka”.

The communications stretched over six days after the Saunderses were last heard from. “On February 9 there are discussions of preparing to kill the kuffar (non-believer) and abduct their allies‚ to destroy infrastructure and to put fear in to the heart of the kuffar.

“On February 10‚ Del Vecchio had mentioned to Patel and Bazooka that there is an elderly couple in the forest‚ that it is a ‘good hunt’ and that they had equipment‚” the papers read.

In an unrelated discussion on the same day‚ the officer alleges that Del Vecchio had given “guidance” that the victims of caliphate fighters should be made to disappear. “When the brothers in Kenya go out and do this work it is very important that the body of the victim is never found and that it remains a missing person case‚” the statement continues.

Over and above the kidnapping and theft charges levelled against all three‚ Patel and Del Vecchio are alleged to have contravened the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act by hoisting an Islamic State flag at their home in the Ndlovini Reserve near Eshowe.

Del Vecchio faces a second count for his involvement in extremist web forums. He is “connected with terrorist activities by participating in extremist web forums that support Isis [Islamic State] and offering to supply phone numbers and sim cards that are not traceable”‚ the charge sheet read.

Sources close to the investigation‚ who spoke to TimesLive on condition of anonymity‚ said that the search for the couple had stretched over vast expanses of the province.

It is understood that investigators used cell phone data to focus their search‚ and then used the keen noses of cadaver dogs to guide them.

Del Vecchio‚ Patel and Xulu are expected to appear in court again on April 12.