By Al Qalam Reporter
There was media frenzy in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court yesterday when a Ballito-based Muslim couple appeared briefly on charges of carrying out a rampant spree of crime along KwaZulu-Natal North Coast that included robbery, kidnapping and various actions that indicated their support of ISIS.
Fatima Patel (27) and Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38 – and a third suspect, Themba Xulu, (19) appeared briefly before Magistrate Valaremen Kathuravaloo. They were remanded in custody until their bail application hearing which was set down for March 6-7. The couple is represented by Advocate Jay Naidoo.
The trio was arrested near Eshowe two weeks after they were linked to the kidnapping and disappearance of a Cape Town based British couple whose vehicle was found abandoned near Vryheid in Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Patel and Del Vecchio face charges of kidnapping or robbery, as well as the possible contravention of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.
Police armed with automatic rifles, kept watch as the suspects were led into the dock. There was also a strong media presence. The court was packed as people craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the couple.
Patel, who wore a full niqab, stood silently next to her partner, Del Vicchio, who had a sling bag over his shoulder containing a Quran. No questions were put to them by the magistrate and the matter was then remanded.
Advocate Naidoo said should the media wish to take photos of the couple at the next hearing, they need to bring a formal application before the court.
There is still no trace of the British couple, Rod (74) and Rachel Saunders (63), who are both renowned botanists in South Africa. They were apparently kidnapped at or near the Bivane Dam in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal, on February 12. Police believe that Patel, De Vecchio and Xulu would be able to answer questions about their fate.
It is understood the couple, who run a Cape Town-based seed company, had been in search of a rare flowering plant when they were apparently kidnapped.
The apparent kidnapping has made news headlines in the UK with several publications reporting that it is feared the couple have been kidnapped by ISIS members. The couple’s disappearance prompted the UK government to warn its citizens in South Africa that there was a terror threat from extremist-linked to ISIS.
The South African government has since written to the High Commission of the UK government requesting it to review this travel advisory.
Patel was in the news in 2016 when she and her brother, Ebrahim Patel, were arrested at their home in Azaadville during a police raid for possession of 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.
Meanwhile, Security officials and experts said there were no known Islamist militant groups operating in South Africa, where Muslims make up fewer than 2% of the population.
The hawks had issued a statement that there is no evidence to link or suggest a conspiracy between the couple arrested and ISIS or any other terrorist group.
Dr Faisal Suleman, chairperson of the South African Muslim Network (SAMNET) told Al Qalam that the sensational nature with which this story was covered in the media, smacked of mere speculation and innuendo.
“It gave the impression that there is a clear and present ISIS danger to South Africans from “Muslim” terrorist groups. The same sensationalism and grandiose claims were made about Al Qaeda threats to the 2010 World Cup in SA and as well as Al-Qaida training camps in SA. All turned out to be pure guesswork.
“Similarly, the British travel advisory is premature, disingenuous and contradicts what South African intelligence and state securities agencies have found. The idea of ISIS recruitment material allegedly found on some of the suspects is so vague and loaded without clear indication of what exactly constitutes this material. Some people will call any Islamic or Arabic literature inflammatory or ISIS linked.
“The negative impact of loud wild claims on tourism and investment at a time when we need it desperately, is huge. There is also a huge and growing Muslim tourism demographic whose Rand spend per capita is very high who will also be discouraged to tour OUR country if it is seen as either dangerous or unfriendly to Muslims.
“The impact on local Muslims, the overwhelming number who have nothing but disgust and abhorrence for the violence that has been carried out purportedly by ISIS, is growing Islamophobia and its subtle and overt effects. It paves the way for Islamophobes and those who would like to see Muslims denigrated and a more hawkish Middle Eastern foreign policy toward Muslim majority states to lobby for the type of anti “terror” legislation and world view that pervades western countries to be implemented in SA.”
Suleman said while there were a handful of SA Muslims who left for Syria a few years ago in the hope that it was some Islamic utopia, they all returned once they realised what ISIS represented “and that our utopia is right here in SA.”