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Alleged Islamic State terror suspects escape plan from KZN court thwarted

Fatima Patel in black in the Verulam Magistrate's Court. Pictures BONGANI MBATHA/ (ANA) AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY

Fatima Patel in black in the Verulam Magistrate's Court. Pictures BONGANI MBATHA/ (ANA) AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY

Published Aug 20, 2019

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Durban - Alleged Islamic State members Aslam del Vecchio, Fatima Patel and Ahmad Mussa were planning to escape from custody, the Verulam Magistrate's Court heard yesterday.

The three are accused of murdering a British couple.

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Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Patel, 27, and Mussa, 36, appeared in court, under tight security on Monday. The court was closed to the general public and only court personnel and journalists were allowed inside.

The trio are charged with murdering British botanists Rachel and Rodney Saunders, in February last year. Their killers also face charges of kidnapping and robbery, and contraventions of the Terrorism Act.

State advocate Mahen Naidu read out an affidavit from the investigating officer, Warrant Officer Adriaan van Jaarsveld, which said: “On the morning of May 14, 2019, at Westville Correctional Centre, accused number two, Mr Del Vecchio was searched. “Documentation and sketches, later identified as the building complex and surrounding area of Verulam family court, were found in his possession. The sketch marked vital points in and around the family court building, access points, main roads and lookout points, which were a planned escape by the accused.”

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He said a report, compiled by the divisional head of intelligence in Pretoria, confirmed that Del Vecchio was planning, with other unidentified individuals, to escape during court proceedings. Van Jaarsveld said there could be a large amount of violence in their escape attempt and the public, police and court officials would be at risk. Van Jaarsveld said the three allegedly planned to overpower armed staff, take their guns and use them as human shields and hostages in the escape.

Del Vechio said the sketches were made a long time ago and he was not planning to make an escape. “There is no new evidence, it is just a drawing,” he said.

Del Vechio said documents from a fictional novel about their version of the story had been taken. The story was based on his life, he said. Del Vechio then argued that the State was attempting to “capture the mind of the court”.

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He said he wanted the public to view the proceedings to see the trio’s treatment. Patel also wanted the proceedings to be public, while Mussa had nothing to say on the matter.

However, he complained of poor treatment in prison. He said he had gone for weeks without bathing and was beaten with a hosepipe, and forced to take a cold shower, before coming to court. Del Vecchio said he was being kept with convicted prisoners while he was still awaiting trial, which was not fair as he had not been convicted yet.

Naidu said he was not aware of the poor treatment and would look into the matter. Magistrate Irfan Khalil said that for the security of staff, the matter would be closed to the public. Khalil said he was also worried about the treatment the accused had received. The matter was adjourned to October.

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