The alleged kidnappers of a British couple who went missing in South Africa plotted to kill the “infidel non-believers” in an Islamic state-inspired plot.
Rodney, 74, and Rachel Saunders, 63, went missing on February 12 near the Bivane dam in the north of KwaZulu-Natal province, reportedly after assisting the BBC programme Gardeners’ World in the area.
Appearing at Verulam Magistrate’s court on Tuesday, Bibi Fatima Patel, 26, her husband Sayfudeen Del Vecchio, 38, and Themba Xulu faced evidence that they planned to “hunt” the couple and dispose of their bodies.
In a statement submitted by investigating officer Anuresh Lutchman, it was also revealed that police are still searching for a third suspect, referred to as “Bazooka” by the trio. He is believed to be Ahmad Jackson Mussa, and is now being sought by police.
At about the same time that the botanists went missing last month, Patel and her husband Vecchio are alleged to have discussed a kidnapping in which they would “kill the kuffar”, a term often translated as “infidels”.
All three suspects have all been charged with kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and Patel and Del Vecchio, who were found with an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) flag, also face charges over committing acts of terror.
In the Saunders’ last communication with a colleague on February 5, they they said they would would be camping at the Bivane Dam near Vryheid in the north of the province. Their four wheel drive was later found with blood inside near Durban on February 18.
In his statement to court, Mr Lutchman said investigations showed that on February 13, Patel and Del Vecchio were in Durban using Rachael Saunders’ bank card, withdrawing cash and buying a drone, two generators, camping and paintball equipment.
The items were found along with a GPS from the four wheel drive when police went to their off-the-grid house – where an Isil flag was found flying – to arrest them on February 15.
Mr Lutchman said several “digital devices were confiscated”, adding: “An audit of these devices showed there were several communications between them and Bazooka.
“On February 9, there were discussions about preparing to ‘kill the kuffar’ and abduct their allies, destroy infrastructure and put fear into the heart of the kuffar.
“On February 10, Del Vecchio mentions to Patel and Bazooka that there is an elderly couple the forest….that they are a good hunt….the conversation continued and later Del Vecchio confirms he has the target.”
The same day, according to Mr Lutchman, Del Vecchio has a conversation with another unknown man and says: “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 it remains a missing person case.”
All three suspects are expected to remain in custody until the next hearing.
The British Foreign Office updated its travel advisory last month to reflect the kidnapping in a section that cautions travellers about ongoing terror threats from Isil in South Africa.
A spokesman for the British High Commission in Pretoria said that the information about the threat from Isil was already part of the government’s existing travel advice, and not added in connection with the kidnapping.