A man from Rotterdam, who is a suspected jihadist, has been implicated in the disappearance of two British botanists who were kidnapped while visiting KwaZulu-Natal. Rodney and his wife Rachel Saunders’ were well-known horticulturists who owned a Kenilworth-based company called Silverhill Seeds. Based on social media posts, they were at the Bivane Dam in Vryheid in search of a rare plant species when they went missing.
The couple were first reported missing on 12 February 2018. Their vehicle was recovered by police shortly after their disappearance, and a fair amount of blood was found at the back of the car.
Rodney’s body was found in the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal on 17 February. Although police have not yet provided details on where Rachel’s body was found, she was positively identified in June. An amount of R700 000 was siphoned from their bank accounts after their disappearance. Jewellery‚ electronics and camping gear were also bought using their stolen credit cards.
An international suspect, known simply as “Mohammed G”, appeared in the Rotterdam District Court after he was accused of being a member of a terrorist organisation. It emerged that Mohammed G had tried to purchase Bitcoin using Rachel’s credit card details. He also had the contact of the highest ranking Islamic State (ISIS) spokesperson, on the African continent, in his possession.
Dutch news network, NOS identified the spokesperson’s name as Mohammed Abdi Ali, who was arrested in Kenya in 2016. On further investigation, the FBI also reported that Ali received instructions from ISIS leadership in Syria.
NOS confirmed that Mohammed G was familiar with two of the suspects, Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio (38) and Fatima Patel (27), previously implicated in the kidnapping of the Saunders’.
A multi-country investigation is being conducted, and Mohammed G is in custody.
Four suspects were arrested in connection with their abduction in South Africa. The suspects, Del Vecchio and Patel, Themba Xulu (19) and Ahmad Mussa (36) faces charges of kidnapping, robbery, two counts of murder and possession of stolen property, as well as the possible contravention of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.