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DURBAN - POLICE forensic experts are conducting DNA tests to determine if the badly decomposed body accidentally found by a fisherman in the Tugela River is that of missing British botanist Rod Saunders.

Saunders, 74, and his wife, Rachel, 63, were allegedly abducted by Islamic State-linked suspects after they went missing while travelling around a remote KZN forest on February 10.

“No conclusive findings have been made yet,” said Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha.

“But we can confirm that DNA samples have been taken and sent to Pretoria for analysis to establish if the body is linked to the Saunders kidnap case.

“Investigators have also visited all morgues in the search area to determine if there are any other identified bodies that fit the time frame of the case.”

This was as the fourth suspect in the case, Ahmad Jackson Mussa, also known as Bazooka, appeared in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Thursday along with his co-accused, Fatima Patel, 27; Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38; and Thembamandla Kwanele Xulu, 19.

They are charged in relation to the kidnapping and murder of the missing couple.

Del Vecchio and Patel were arrested on February 15 after the couple’s disappearance, with Xulu, 19, being arrested soon after that.

Mussa was arrested in late March in Durban North after an intensive police manhunt.

He allegedly co-operated with investigators and guided their search for the Saunders’ bodies to the Tugela River Mouth.

But a search party involving boats and divers failed to find their bodies, which were believed to be submerged and wrapped in their sleeping bags.

A source close to the investigation said that a few weeks ago the Hawks were alerted that an unidentified body lying in the KwaDukuza mortuary could be linked to the hunt for the Saunders couple.

Badly decomposed and with a foot missing, it had been found by a fisherman on February 28 about 500m from the river mouth.

But local police who removed it did not link it to the Hawks search being conducted 60km north of them.

Del Vecchio, Patel and Xulu have appeared several times in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court charged with the kidnapping, assault and robbery of the Saunders couple.

They also face charges under the Terrorism and Related Activities Act.

Evidence in an affidavit appears to implicate them in a R700 000 credit card spending spree and an ATM ransack of Rachel’s bank account. The affidavit also linked Mussa to Del Vecchio, who had exchanged messages.

In court on Thursday, Patel’s bail application was marred with delays as Mussa, who had legal aid representation, told the court he wanted a private attorney.

The State also brought to the court’s attention that during legal aid’s consultation with Mussa, instructing attorney Nadeem Mohamed, representing Del Vecchio and Patel, had been present. Prosecutor Adele Barnard said Mohamed was an officer of the court, describing his actions as inappropriate and unethical.

The accused were remanded until April 25.