This historic building on the corner of Pixley KaSeme and Joseph Nduli streets was home to a branch of Phillips Price Busters before the bombers struck. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - A GANG believed to have carried out a reign of terror at retail stores in Durban also stands accused of extorting money.

Whether or not this money was destined for terror groups such as the so-called Islamic State is not yet clear.

However, at least three business premises in Durban were approached by unknown men who demanded millions of rands to be paid to an account in Dubai via illegal money dealers in that country.

Others were asked to pay in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

When they did not, their businesses were set alight.

The men police believe were behind the attacks have been arrested and are in the process of applying for bail in Verulam Magistrate’s Court.

Alleged threats via SMS
Alleged threats via SMS

Farhad Hoomer, alleged to be the ringleader, and 10 others are being held on a number of charges. It is believed they are sympathetic to the Islamic State.

The state has opposed bail on the basis that the charges were of a serious nature and that the suspects were a safety and flight risk.

The men are also accused of an attack on a Verulam mosque that left one person dead. He had his throat slit. Two others were stabbed, but survived.

They are also accused of planting explosive devices across Durban. This includes several Woolworths stores.

However, at three privately owned businesses, the devices were detonated causing extensive damage. The stores were identified during the bail application as Phillips Price Busters, RB’s Pawnbrokers and Tony’s Car Sales.

Phillips Price Busters is a furniture store with branches on Pixley kaSeme Street and Umgeni Road. According to a friend of the owner, Philip Kekeliadis, the threats started in August last year with a bullet in an envelope.

Later bullets were fired at both stores.

However, Kekeliadis, who was of Greek origin, was not aware he was being targeted with the aim of getting him to part with money.

“He had a tablet but he only knew how to answer a call. He did not know how to open messages or even read English. He only communicated in Greek so I used to go through his messages.

“That’s how we found the messages. We then reported it to the police”, said the friend.

In April one night, the shop in Pixley Ka Seme Street caught alight. When Kekeliadis didn’t respond to calls from various numbers, the Umgeni Road store caught fire two months later on June 14.

“During that morning, while cleaning up, we found the device and then about 10.50am he received a call telling him that there was a bomb in the shop. While the police were there, a man who identified himself as Cobra called.

He said Kekeliadis could get the entire army but no one would be able to help him”, said the friend.

Just over a month later, Kekeliadis was outside a renal clinic where he received treatment when he was shot. He died on July 17.

The friend and a relative believed there was a link between his death and the extortion demands but are still waiting for police to finalise their investigations.

The name Cobra is also linked to attempts to extort money from the owner of RB’s Pawnbrokers, on the Bluff.

Inside the historic building on the corner of Pixley KaSeme and Joseph Nduli streets was home to a branch of Phillips Price Busters before the bombers struck.

On a Friday in May he received a SMS from “Cobra” demanding $100000 (R1.4 million) be paid into a Dubai account.

“While I was still reading the message, a man called demanding the same. I told them that I don’t have the money. I reported it to the police”, said the owner.

Five days later, men under the guise of wanting to buy beds entered the top floor of the shop and placed an explosive device which was triggered causing extensive damage.

The owner, said he was still living in fear.

A spokesperson for Tony’s Car Sales confirmed that a car had been blown up, but declined to comment further.

Sunday Tribune 

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