Sayefudeen Del Vecchio is led into the Verulam Magistrate's Court. Before appearing, he changed his top and entered the courtroom with a cloth bag slung over his shoulder, which appeared to contain a copy of the Quran. PHOTO: ANA

Durban – Standing almost a head taller than her, Sayefudeen Del Vecchio stared before him as Fatima Patel occasionally rested her veiled face on his arm at the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Thursday. 

The two have been charged – along with Thembamandla Xulu - for the alleged kidnapping, assault and robbery of Cape Town botanists and business owners, Rachel and Rodney Saunders, who remain missing.

Pillay and Del Vecchio were arrested last week while Xulu was arrested on Monday.

Del Vecchio and Patel are also facing terrorism charges for allegedly collecting and displaying of an ISIS flag during the period of the alleged kidnapping 

The charge sheet indicates that Del Vecchio faces a second terrorism charge where he “unlawfully solicited or provided support for a terrorist organisation…namely ISIL or ISIS” between 2015 and 2017.

Read: UK terror threat warning after couple abducted in KZN

Forensic quest for missing British pair

He is also being charged with malicious injury to property for burning sugar cane fields last year, which amounted to a loss of over R2 million.

All three suspects are alleged to have kidnapped and assaulted the Saunders, both of whom hold dual citizenship in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The attack took place between 10 and 15 February at or near Bivane Dam in the Vryheid area. 

The suspects are also accused of stealing the couple's Land Cruiser and more than R700,000 from their bank account.  The car was recovered with blood inside.

It is thought the Saunders were searching for rare plants at the time of their disappearance.

Magistrate D. Kathuravadoo made it clear that Xulu was not facing any terrorism or terrorism-related charges.

When Kathuravadoo asked the suspects if they had anything to say to the court, Xulu, speaking through a translator, said he still was not aware why he was being held. 

But Kathuravadoo cut him short, saying he knew even one night in jail was difficult, which was why he had tried to expedite the bail application.

Xulu occasionally shook his head through the short proceedings as deliberations continued between Kathuravadoo and Mondli Mthethwa (Xulu’s Legal Aid lawyer), Jay Naidoo (for Del Vecchio and Patel) and state prosecutor Adele Barnard for an appropriate date for bail application. 

Del Vecchio and Patel barely moved during the appearance but had their fingers entwined throughout.

Patel was seated in the court before proceedings began, wearing a black niqab and leather jacket, sitting pin straight with her hands in her lap. She heaved a deep sigh before entering the dock and as soon as Del Vecchio joined her – in a wrinkled and grubby white cotton shirt and skullcap - the two clasped hands. 

Del Vecchio had a cloth bag slung over his shoulder that appeared to have a copy of the Quran inside. 

Hawks spokesperson, Captain Lloyd Ramovha, said that anyone that could assist with the investigation into locating the Saunders should call the provincial joint operations centre on 031 325 6044.

All three suspects were remanded in custody and will appear again on 6 March for a formal bail application.

African News Agency/ANA