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Body identified after British couple go missing in South Africa

South Africa
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AFP |

South African police said Wednesday they had identified the body of a British man suspected to have been kidnapped by alleged Islamic militants. Rodney Saunders, 74, and his wife Rachel, 63 — who has not been found — were last confirmed alive in KwaZulu-Natal province on about February 10.

The renowned botanists went missing after they went on a trip to look for rare seeds. Saunders’ body was found by fishermen on February 17 in the Tugela river in the province, but it has only now been positively identified.

“A dedicated team remain on the ground for the search of Rachel,” police said in a statement, adding they were checking mortuaries and doing forensic and DNA tests. Four suspects alleged to have been behind the couple’s kidnapping appeared at a hearing at Verulam Magistrates Court outside Durban on Wednesday.

Sayfydeen Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27, were arrested in a raid on their house on February 16. They are alleged to have hoisted an Islamic State flag in a reserve in the region where the Saunders disappeared.

Daesh, ISIL and ISIS are alternative names for the so-called Islamic State group. The advisory said that some South Africans who had visited Syria, Iraq and Libya were “likely to pose a security threat on their return”.

Themba Xulu, 19, was arrested when he was found in possession of the victims’ cell phones. The fourth suspect is Malawian national, Ahmad Mussa, 36. The group face charges of kidnapping, robbery, two counts of murder and possession of stolen property.

Del Vecchio and Patel also face charges of arson and possession of a terror group flag. After the British couple disappeared, 734,000 rand ($62,000) was reportedly been drained from their accounts and their Toyota Land Cruiser was found with blood marks.

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The Cape Town-based Saunders were on a trip to KwaZulu-Natal to hunt for rare seeds. They had also been filming for a BBC gardening programme shortly before they were kidnapped. Following their disappearance, the British foreign ministry warned that “terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in South Africa”.

“The main threat is from extremists linked to Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL). In February 2018, two South African-British nationals were kidnapped,” it said in travel advice for South Africa.

Sayfydeen Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27, were arrested in a raid on their house on February 16. They are alleged to have hoisted an Islamic State flag in a reserve in the region where the Saunders disappeared.

Daesh, ISIL and ISIS are alternative names for the so-called Islamic State group. The advisory said that some South Africans who had visited Syria, Iraq and Libya were “likely to pose a security threat on their return”.

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“There’s also a threat from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh,” it added. The US and Britain warned in 2016 of the possibility of attacks by jihadist extremists in South Africa’s major cities.


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