UK and South African security officials are in disagreement as to the sudden disappearance of a British couple in an outlying area of South Africa.
Dual nationals Rodney and Rachel Saunders, 73 and 64 respectively, who were gardening experts in the town of Vryheid, were last heard from on February 12 and are feared to be dead. Police investigating their disappearance confirmed they arrested a man and woman from the same town — Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27 — both of whom were reported to have been in possession of ISIS recruiting material. (Of note was that Patel’s brother Ebrahim was detained in a raid by anti-terror officers in 2016.)
The couple is facing possible charges of kidnapping, robbery and murder. They are being questioned over separate allegations of arson and terror offenses as they were originally arrested on February 16 in connection with a fire that destroyed a sugar cane field in the region.
British security officials recently issued warnings of “likely” attacks by Islamists on foreigners in South Africa. The Foreign Office’s website stated:
“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.”
The couple, who moved to South Africa in the 1970s, was last photographed by a BBC crew on February 8 during a show they were filming for Gardeners’ World.
Their abandoned car was recovered 200 miles from where they are believed to have disappeared. In addition, $28,000 was withdrawn from their bank account.
However, South African investigators probing the couple’s disappearance said terrorism may not be the cause of the couple’s disappearance and caution that, at present, their investigation has not found any terror links.
South African officials insist there are no known jihadi groups operating in South Africa and contend the UK terror alert was “alarmist.”