Rod and Rachel Saunders went missing last month.
Rod and Rachel Saunders went missing last month.

Divers search for bodies

By MIKE BEHR Time of article published Mar 25, 2018

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Police divers are searching a crocodile-infested river for the bodies of Rod and Rachel Saunders following the arrest of an alleged Islamic State suspect on Thursday.

After an intensive five- week manhunt for Malawian Ahmad “Bazooka” Jackson Mussa, the Hawks finally had a breakthrough late this week when they arrested the suspect in Durban North.

“He co-operated with investigators and guided their search for the missing couple to the Tugela River Mouth,” said a source close to the investigation.

“We’re looking for their bodies and expect another breakthrough soon.”

A search party involving boats and divers is looking for the British couple’s bodies, which are believed to be submerged and wrapped in their sleeping bags. Tracker dogs are sniffing the river bank for clues that might narrow down the search area.

A source involved in the search said Mussa was “doing a pointing-out at Tugela” yesterday.

Although recent rains and the presence of crocodiles will hamper the search, police are confident they will recover the remains of the couple, who have been missing since February 10.

They were last seen in the Ngoye Forest Reserve near Mtunzini, 130km north of Durban.

The search is being monitored by members of the FBI and Scotland Yard, said a source on the ground.

Mussa became a wanted man when police found his passport on February 15 in the home of Isis suspects Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and his wife, Fatima Patel, 27.

They have since appeared twice in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court, charged with the kidnapping, assault and robbery of the missing couple. The pair, who were on a terror watch list before the kidnapping, also face charges under the Terrorism and Related Activities Act.

“Our border posts were on high alert ever since February 15,” said the source.

“The Hawks were confident Bazooka had not tried to slip out of South Africa. They were also confident it was a matter of time before they tracked him down with good, old-fashioned detective work.”

Considered a high-risk detainee, Del Vecchio is being held in one of the underground single cells at Kokstad’s Ebongweni C-Max Prison about 260km south of Durban, one of the most secure prisons in the southern hemisphere and home to the country’s most dangerous prisoners.

At his recent bail application hearing with Patel, police submitted an affidavit that revealed the missing couple had been the target of an Isis-linked plot to “kill the kuffar (non-believers) and abduct their allies, to destroy infrastructure and to put fear in the heart of the kuffar”.

The affidavit also links Mussa to Del Vecchio, who messaged him “that there is an elderly couple in the forest”, that it is a “good hunt” and that they had equipment. The conversation continued between the accused in a similar manner and later Del Vecchio confirmed that “he has the target”.

Hopes dwindled that the Saunderses would be found alive with the discovery of a Del Vecchio text that read: “When the brothers in Kenya go out and do this work it is very important that the body of the victim is never found and it remains a missing person case.”

The couple’s bodies had not been found at the time of going to print.

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