Johannesburg – Police have allegedly found the black BMW X5 that was used in the Melville New Year's Eve drive-by shooting that left two people dead and six people injured as they stood outside Poppy’s Restaurant.
The breakthrough came while they were investigating an unrelated kidnapping.
A source close to the investigation said that the vehicle was found in the garage, and was identified through CCTV footage taken on the night of the shooting.
“Apparently how they identified the BMW is that there were some sort of markings on the car that he forgot to remove,” said the source who didn’t want to be named.
Police are also looking at the possibility that the vehicle was used in a second shooting that morning where shots were fired from the top deck of the M1 highway into a concert that was happening at Mary Fitzgerald Square.
In this incident 11 people were injured. For months police have been baffled as to what the motives were behind the two shootings.
Now, according to the source the motive appears to be terror related after a police raid uncovered Islamic State (IS) flags, bomb-making manuals and camouflage clothing on a small holding in Klipriver, south of Johannesburg.
Investigators, says the source, are looking at the possibility that the gang might have been involved in other terror-linked activities.
The predawn raid on the Klipriver property on Thursday was to nab a kidnapping syndicate that police believed was holding a 72-year-old Indian national. The man was kidnapped early this month.
Five men, including two foreign nationals, were arrested and police discovered a cache of weapons buried in the garden.
These included two AK-47s, an Uzi sub-machine gun, pistols and two pump action shotguns.
Three of the arrested men were charged with kidnapping, while the other two face charges of illegal possession of ammunition and firearms. The man who rented the house is on the run and is being sought by police.
On Friday morning, police acting on new information rescued the kidnapped man when they raided a premises in Kensington, Johannesburg. The kidnapped man was discovered unharmed and was taken to hospital for a cautionary check-up.
Speaking at the scene of the raid in Klipriver, the National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, said that detectives were investigating the possibility that the criminals might be behind the Melville drive-by-shooting and other extremist attacks in KwaZulu-Natal.
The source said that the gang was using kidnapping to finance their activities. It has also been suggested that the Melville shooting was a test run for a future operation.
On New Year’s morning at around 1am, a network of CCTV cameras captured the BMW scouting the Melville area, minutes before driving past Poppy’s restaurant and opening fire.
The Saturday Star asked facial reconstruction specialist Jeanette Naude to examine the CCTV footage and she was able to identify three men in the car, who were either white or coloured.
The shooter was in the back seat and appeared to be wearing a hat. She also noticed that he either had a cigarette or lollipop in his mouth.
Police found that the car registration that could be clearly seen in the CCTV was fake and had been cloned from another BMW X5.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo would not confirm that the vehicle used in the Melville shooting had been found.
“If there is talk that they found the vehicle, then it would be issued in my (press) statement. If it is not in the statement, it is not for the media,” he said.
Naidoo added that Islamic State flags were not found at the crime scene in Klipriver.
Counterterrorism expert Jasmine Opperman warned that more information was needed before it could be established that IS was involved in the Melville shooting or the kidnapping.
“If you asked me, is this an Islamic State cell. From the work I have done on Isis, I look at what I have in front of me. I would say highly unlikely. These are criminals,” she said.
Opperman said that usually during an Isis-inspired attack, the attackers will leave a letter pledging allegiance to the leader of the terror group.
Crime activist Yusuf Abramjee, who has campaigned for the Melville shooting to be solved, welcomed the news of the alleged breakthrough.
“I’m sure a lot is going to be uncovered as the investigation progresses. It was a question of time before there was a breakthrough. The murderers wanted to cause mayhem. That seems to have been the motive.”