Investigators wade through five terabytes of data in case of alleged Islamic State loyalists

22 July 2019 - 18:11 By Orrin Singh
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The alleged Isis loyalists who are facing a raft of charges including murder and attempted murder.
The alleged Isis loyalists who are facing a raft of charges including murder and attempted murder.

Investigators need to wade through five terabytes of data from 216 devices seized from 12 men accused of terrorist related activities in Durban. 

This was revealed during the appearance of Farhad Hoomer, Ahmed Haffejee‚ Goolam Haffejee‚ Thabit Mwenda‚ Mohamad Akbar‚ Seiph Mohamed‚ Amani Mayani‚ Abubakar Ali‚ Abbas Jooma‚ Mahammed Sobruin‚ Ndikumana Shabani and Iddy Omari in the Verulam Magistrate's Court on Monday. 

The court heard that investigators were working around the clock to analyse data from devices seized from the men, who are facing a raft of charges related to terrorist activities in connection with firebomb incidents at Woolworths stores and at last year's Durban July horseracing event. 

The men also face various other charges‚ including murder‚ attempted murder‚ arson and extortion. They were arrested in a co-ordinated Hawks raid on October 5. The men stand accused of being aligned to terror group Islamic State, with Hoomer allegedly orchestrating a Verulam mosque attack in May last year, as well as a series of firebomb attacks at retail outlets in the months that followed.

Senior state prosecutor and head of the Priority Litigation Crimes Unit (PCLU) at the National Prosecuting Authority, Torie Pretorius, deposed an affidavit in court made by a digital forensic examiner for the Hawks, warrant officer Sunette Potgieter. 

The affidavit aimed to highlight the current stage of investigations, which has been a contentious issue as legal representatives of the accused have on a number of occasions expressed their unhappiness about the number of delays and incomplete investigations.

Potgieter, the primary analyst assigned to investigate the data from the digital devices seized, noted that among the devices seized were: eight laptops, three desktop computers, 67 cellphones, 43 SIM cards, 13 USBs, 81 DVDs and one SD card. 

Potgieter said five terabytes of data have been acquired from the 216 devices seized, which would equate to 95,780 volumes of 2,000 double sided pages when printed. 

She noted that the data in the case was "voluminous," and would need to be processed and analysed before a report could be drafted with the findings. 

In a separate affidavit deposed on Monday, Colonel Johannes Vreugdenburg of the organised crime unit at the Hawks, provided reasons as to why voice samples were needed from Hoomer. 

Vreugdenburg's affidavit highlighted that on August 7 2018 Woolworths' financial call centre in Cape Town received various calls from a person stating that he has information about the bombing at their shops in Durban. 

"Eventually he was connected to Phumlani Dyini, the head of group enterprise risk management at Woolworths. The person called Phumlani Dyini and asked him if he wanted the bombs to stop. He asked the caller what he wanted and was told he will receive an SMS. He then received an SMS from the same number, demanding the payment of 1,000 Bitcoins into a Bitcoin wallet."

Vreugdenburg said all these calls were recorded and the recordings were provided to him and he listened to these recording at various times.

He said shortly after Hoomer was arrested on October 5 he had interviewed him and couldn't help but recognise "similarities between his voice and the digital recordings received from Woolworths."

The veracity of Hoomer's voice samples are expected to be deliberated on August 22 when he will appear alone at the Verulam Magistrate's Court. 

Hoomer's legal representative Advocate Jimmy Howse once again raised concerns over lengthy delays in the case after the state brought forward an application to have the case postponed to September 30 for further investigations. 

Howse also requested the state to return the devices which the acquisition of data had been completed. 

Pretorius said at least nine of the 216 devices were proving to be a hassle for the state to extract data from. 

"It's not an easy process, its a very exact and meticulous science," he told magistrate Irfaan Khalil. 

Meanwhile, advocate Joe Wolmarans, representing Ahmed and Goolam Haffejee, requested clarity from the state as to why his clients' licensed firearms had not yet been returned to them. 

He also requested the state to allow Ahmed to report to Newlands police station as opposed to Durban central - citing that travelling once a week was an inconvenience. 

Pretorius said he would look into the matter of the firearms as he was not sure if they had been taken in for ballistic tests.

Khalil granted Woolmarans's request and noted that Ahmed would be required to report to the Newslands police station once a week as part of his bail conditions. 

Hoomer was previously granted R200,000 bail, while the Haffejees were released on R100,000 and R150,000. Mwenda, Mohamed and Mayani were released on warnings while Akbar, Ali‚ Jooma, Sobruin, Shabani and Omari had bail set between R3,000 and R5,000.

The matter was postponed to September 30 for further investigations.

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