Three suspects accused of kidnapping an elderly British couple in South Africa in a plot linked to Isil now face charges of “the infliction of grievously bodily harm” on the victims, state prosecutors said on Thursday.
Rodney, 74, and Rachel Saunders, 63, went missing on February 12 near the Bivane dam in the north of KwaZulu-Natal province, reportedly after assisting the BBC programme Gardeners’ World in the area.
Police recovered the Saunders’ stolen car in the city of Durban, hundreds of miles from the site of the couple’s disappearance. A forensic investigation found human blood in the vehicle, state prosecutor Adele Barnard told the Verulam Magistrate Court outside Durban.
South Africa’s special police unit, the Hawks, said the search for the couple was ongoing, and appealed to the public for information about the case.
"Currently the search continues,” said Captain Lloyd Ramovha, a Hawks’ spokesman. “They haven’t been found as yet.”
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Two of the suspects, Bibi Fatima Patel, 26, and Sayefudeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, appeared in the court for a bail application hearing, facing charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, and contravention of South Africa’s anti-terrorism law for being in possession of an Isil flag.
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“The aggravating circumstances being the infliction of grievously bodily harm,” read a provisional charge sheet submitted to the court on Thursday seen by The Telegraph.
Mr Del Vecchio faces further charges of having “unlawfully solicited and provided support for” Isil between 2015 and 2017.
Mrs Patel stood looking straight ahead in the court room as the prosecutor spoke on Thursday morning, wearing a black niqab and a black leather jacket over a long dress and trainers.
Mr Del Vecchio glanced behind him a few times at the public benches, wearing long hair and a beard, black eyeliner, and a colourful hat and bag slung across his chest.
A third suspect, 19-year-old Thembamandla Kwanele Xulu, appeared next to them, facing charges of kidnapping and robbery with aggravating circumstances.
The hearing for the suspects was postponed until March 6 due to a court scheduling matter.
In addition to kidnapping the couple, the three suspects are accused of stealing the Saunders’ car, cell phones, GPS unit and bank card, according to the charge sheet. Mrs Patel and Mr Xulu are accused of stealing R734,000 (£44,740) from accounts belonging to the Saunders.
When asked by magistrates if any of the accused had anything to say the court, Mrs Patel and Mr Del Vecchio remained silent.
Mr Xulu, in a purple shirt and trousers, crossed his arms said through a translator in Zulu: “Even though I’m appearing before this court, I don’t know what I’ve done.”
All three suspects are expected to remain in custody until the next hearing.
The British Foreign Office updated its travel advisory last month to reflect the kidnapping in a section that cautions travellers about ongoing terror threats from Isil in South Africa.
A spokesman for the British High Commission in Pretoria said that the information about the threat from Isil was already part of the government’s existing travel advice, and not added in connection with the kidnapping.