Alleged Islamic State-linked Sayfydeen Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel have been under Hawks surveillance for two years – ever since Del Vecchio was seen snooping around the radar area of King Shaka International Airport on his quad bike, according to the Hawks.
“He sits on his bike and watches the planes take off and land at the airport,” stated an affidavit submitted by the Hawks at the couple’s bail hearing in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court this week.
“He is also suspected of building a shrine near the main tower of the airport with Islamic inscriptions painted on it,” read the affadvit.
They also face charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances and involvement in terrorist activities.
By February, investigators revealed that they had enough evidence to pounce on Del Vecchio and Patel, but while police were busy drafting an application for a search warrant of their home, the Saunders unwittingly stumbled across their path, costing them their lives.
How the Saunderses were murdered has not yet been revealed.
According to the Hawks, Mussa told investigators he had assisted Del Vecchio in unloading two sleeping bags from the Saunders’ Land Cruiser containing bodies and thrown them into the Tugela River.
A source close to the investigation has disclosed that “a s***load of badass knives were recovered from the Landcruiser”.
This week, the Hawks confirmed that a body found on February 17 was positively identified in DNA tests as that of Rodney Saunders. His body was found about 500m from the Tugela River mouth. It was taken to the KwaDukuza Mortuary in Stanger by police, who did not link it to an intensive police search for the missing Saunders being conducted in the Ngoye Forest 60 km north of the Tugela.
In late March police were alerted that the John Doe in the mortuary could be linked to the Saunders’ abduction. It was so badly decomposed that it could not be identified through photographs.
“Race uncertain” Whatsapped a mortuary source. “Thought to be white. Gender certain with male genitalia. Body decomposed with immersion changes and partially damaged. Loss of left foot through ankle joint. Loss of half left forearm. Loss of tissue on entire body due to suspected scavenger activity. No hair on scalp.”
Meanwhile, the search for Rachel Saunders continued, said Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha.
Fourth accused Thembamandla Kwanele Xulu, 19, whose trial has been separated from that of Del Vecchio and Patel, is charged only with possession of stolen property, reportedly belonging to the botanists.
Dressed in a purple long-sleeved shirt and khaki trousers, the young man muttered silently to himself as he swung around in a 360° turn when he appeared in the dock on Thursday. The magistrate postponed his hearing to May 9.