Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Durban - The men accused of being part of an Isis terror cell that planted incendiary devices at shopping malls in Durban and attacked a mosque’s worshippers have all claimed the identity parade used to arrest them was flawed.

The bail application of the 11 accused is expected to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Verulam Family Court, under tight security, before magistrate Irfan Khalil.

The cell is accused of planting explosive devices across Durban earlier this year as well as attacking the Imam Hussain Shi'a mosque near Verulam in May.

The mosque attack led to the death of Abbas Essop, who had his throat slit while trying to offer assistance to the wounded. Two other men were injured during the attack. Just days later, an incendiary device was found in the mosque.

The accused are facing schedule six offences including murder, attempted murder, extortion, arson as well as charges under South African anti-terror legislation known as the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorism and Related Activities Act. Some are also accused of kidnapping.

In their affidavits, filed with the court, the men say their arrests were a case of either mistaken identity by association or being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They also all dispute cellphone evidence that allegedly places them at various scenes when crimes were committed.

They claim an identity parade in which they participated was poorly constructed and that the witness also picked out participants deliberately placed in the line-up by officials.

Accused Ahmed Haffejee said that his inclusion on a WhatsApp group called Jundullah - meaning Soldiers of God - was done “without being asked” and that he “personally never commented” on the group.

Haffejee further stated in his affidavit that he was not linked to Ahmed Jackson Mussa, “rather, our respective numbers are shown to be in the same WhatsApp group”.

Mussa stands accused of partaking in the February murder of botanists Rachel and Rodney Saunders, who were collecting rare plants in the flora-rich Ngoye Forest 130 km north of Durban when they were killed.

Mussa, along with Sayfudeen de Vechhio, 38, and de Vechhio’s customary Islamic wife Fatima Patel, 27, stand accused of kidnapping, extorting, murdering and then dumping the Saunders’ bodies into the nearby Tugela River. 

The trio will appear again in December.

Haffejee further said that Isis-linked literature found on his electronic devices did not mean he supported any terrorist organisation. 

“People read inflammatory material out of curiosity while not necessarily agreeing with it,” said Haffejee.

He admitted to being known as a “media activist” and a “keyboard warrior” and has an outstanding “defamation” claim against him by “a doctor”.

“[At] certain times, comments were made to purely provoke strong and healthy debate, especially on topics relating to the crisis in the Middle East,” said Haffejee.

Accused number four, Tanzanian national Thabit Said Mwenda, who is an “Islamic Priest”, and his brother-in-law, Seiph Mohamed, who said he is a veterinarian and only arrived in South Africa in September, admitted to being in South Africa illegally. They said they planned to leave on the day they were arrested.

The remaining accused - Mohamad Akbar, Amani Mayani, Abubaker Ali, Abasi Juma, Mohammed Adil Sobruin, Burundian Iddy Omari and Ndikumana Shabani – are all challenging the charges.

The alleged kingpin of the cell, Farad Hoomer, 41, made his bail application to the court last week. His advocate Jimmy Howse told the court he had managed to obtain evidence that proved the evidence against Hoomer was false.

African News Agency/ANA