Picture: Archives

DURBAN - A Verulam court heard on Wednesday that the state would be seeking the services of an international terrorism expert in the case of murdered botanists, Rachel and Rodney Saunders.

State advocate Adele Barnard told the Verulam Family Court that the state was seeking a remand to May 2019 in order to finalise the services of United Kingdom-based expert, Dr Florence Gaub.

Gaub would be utilised to provide an expert report on terrorism and digital downloads found in the possession of the accused.

The remand was also necessary in order to serve a provisional indictment on the accused. However, Barnard was not sure if a notice of trial would be issued with the indictment.

“I can inform the court that the investigations in this matter have been moving forward,” said Barnard. 

Requests to the governments of Somalia and the Netherlands under the Mutual Legal Assistance Act had been finalised and the return of evidence was awaited.

Depending on what was forthcoming, further charges may be added, she said.

Fatima Patel, 27, and Sayefudeen Del Vecchio, 38 - who are married under Islamic rights - together with Malawian Ahmad Mussa, 36, are facing charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, theft, contravention of the country’s terrorism act and two counts of murder for the February kidnapping and killing of the Saunders couple.  

Rodney and Rachel, dual British-South African passport holders, went missing between 10 and 15 February in the Vryheid area, where they were thought to be searching for rare plants.

Two search and seizure operations at Del Vecchio and Patel’s rural residence led to the recovery of various items purchased with Rachel Saunders’ bankcard, with corresponding slips found in Patel’s handbag.

A GPS device belonging to the Saunders was also recovered, along with digital communication between Mussa, Patel and Del Vecchio showing they were working together.

A pair of blood stained trousers belonging to Del Vecchio was also seized. The blood was identified as belonging to Rodney Saunders.

Del Veccchio was also allegedly advising someone via Telegram on bomb-making, while Patel is alleged to have helped a 15-year-old teenager “to join ISIL in April 2015”.

 The couple were also allegedly in possession of an ISIS flag at their homestead.

In an affidavit supplied by the lead investigator, it was also revealed that Mussa told authorities in a statement that Patel woke him to help Del Vecchio dump the bodies of the murdered couple off the Tugela River Bridge.

Responding to Barnard on Wednesday, Mondli Mthethwa, acting for the accused, said that if another postponement was granted, his clients would have been in custody for over a year and there was no guarantee an indictment would be served by May.

Mthethwa also contended that Del Vecchio was harassed by correctional services officials and had been assaulted because his attackers thought he was “a terrorist”. 

Barnard said the postponement was not unreasonable as an analyst was still working on cellphone mapping and digital evidence had to be sent to the state’s expert.

Barnard also told the court that “sexually explicit material involving children” was recovered on the electronic devices used by the accused and further charges would be added in terms of the films and publications act.

The matter was adjourned to 7 May for a provisional indictment to be served.

 African News Agency (ANA)