Couple still missing as third suspect is arrested in KZN kidnapping 'terrorism' case

2018-02-27 18:09
Nick Bailey, a presenter on the BBC show Gardeners' World, with missing couple Rod and Rachel Saunders. (Twitter)

Nick Bailey, a presenter on the BBC show Gardeners' World, with missing couple Rod and Rachel Saunders. (Twitter)

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Cape Town – A couple from Cape Town, who are internationally known in the horticulture industry, are still missing despite a third suspect having been arrested in connection with their disappearance in KwaZulu-Natal two weeks ago in a case with possible links to the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

Rod and Rachel Saunders, who have both South African and British citizenship, were apparently kidnapped at or near the Bivane Dam in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal, on February 12.

It is understood the couple, who run a Cape Town-based seed company, had been in search of a rare flowering plant.

The apparent kidnapping has made news headlines in the UK with several publications reporting it is feared the couple have been kidnapped by ISIS members.

Two of three suspects arrested so far in the case face charges for possibly contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.

The couple's disappearance prompted the UK government to warn its citizens in South Africa that there was a terror threat from extremists linked to ISIS.

READ: UK govt warns of terror threat in SA following kidnapping arrests in KZN

The South African government has since written to the High Commission of the UK government requesting it to review this travel advisory.

On Tuesday Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha confirmed to News24 that a third suspect, a 19-year-old, had been arrested.

He faced charges of possessing suspected stolen property and kidnapping.

The suspect was expected to appear in the Verulam Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.

Two other suspects – Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27 – were arrested after being identified as suspects in the case on February 16.

Kidnapping, robbery and arson charges

Charges against them include kidnapping or robbery, as well as the possible contravention of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.

The duo also face an arson charge for allegedly torching and destroying hectares of sugar cane fields in 2017.

Patel has been arrested before. She and her brother, Ebrahim Patel, were arrested at their home in Azaadville in 2016 during police raids on the West Rand.

These raids also led to the arrest of Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, who are allegedly linked to the ISIS group.

Based on online and social media posts, the Saunders were likely in KwaZulu-Natal in search of a rare plant species.

On February 8, four days before they were apparently kidnapped, Nick Bailey, a presenter on the BBC show Gardeners' World, tweeted a photograph of himself with the couple.

"These guys know their South African native plants...and vitally where to find them," he tweeted.

Three days earlier, Bailey tweeted: "No filter, just the Drakensburg Mountains in all their 5am glory. Off plant hunting today in pursuit of some rare gladioli. Can't wait! (sic)"

The Kogelberg Botanical Society website posted a notice earlier this year announcing that the Saunders' would be speaking on gladioli in Betty's Bay in the Western Cape on January 20.

"A number of them grow in the summer rainfall regions of South Africa, and a number of them flower in midsummer," it said.  

Couple only had one more plant to find

"Rod and Rachel have visited the Drakensberg four years running to try to find several species that flower in December in the mountains. As of today, they have found and photographed 164 of the South African species, and only have one left to find – Gladiolus uitenhagensis which comes from close to Port Elizabeth."

According to a website, they own the Cape Town company Silverhill Seeds, which is based in Kenilworth.

" is an independent company owned by Rod and Rachel Saunders," the company's website says.

The Pacific Bulb Society website provided details about the couple.

"Throughout much of the year they travel around South Africa collecting seeds. Rod is the former chairman of the Indigenous Bulb Association of South Africa, a first-rate photographer, and a popular speaker," it said.

Read more on:    isis  |  durban  |  crime  |  security

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