ISIS trialists’ escape plot claim
LEG irons, handcuffs and a bolstered, heavily-armed police presence marked the court appearance of three alleged ISIS loyalists. Sayfudeen Aslam Del Vecchio (38), his wife Fatima Patel (27) and Ahmad Jackson ‘Bazooka’ Mussa (36) all shuffled into the dock in leg irons and handcuffs before Magistrate Irfaan Khalil at the Verulam Family Court on Friday morning. The court heard how the three, who have been charged with the kidnapping and murder of Britishborn Cape Town botanists Rod (74) and Rachel (63) Saunders, had been planning to escape some time during their forthcoming court appearances. Advocate Adele Barnard said the state had received a request from the investigating officer, Anuresh AJ Lutchman, that the accused appear in court with leg irons and that only their handcuffs be removed. ‘The investigating officer received information from a credible source that the accused were planning to escape from prison and/or court; that they may disarm a police officer in court and use his firearm to escape,’ said Barnard. Acting on behalf of the accused, Mondli Mthethwa, said his clients were innocent until proven guilty and their bonds would infringe on their right to a fair trial. ‘We respectfully ask that these accused don’t appear in court in such manner; they can be searched before entering court, these are the instructions I have received from my clients,’ Mthethwa said. Magistrate Khalil agreed with Mthethwa and emphasized that human dignity is of paramount importance. ‘Prison authorities and police could enforce other measures to ensure the safety of its members as well as personnel of the court if they felt there was a legitimate risk of escape,’ said Khalil. After a short adjournment, in which the shackles and handcuffs were removed, much to the delight of Del Vecchio, who smirked in conversation with Mussa, the court heard of how the three had been subjected to isolation in prison. Del Vecchio was moved from the Westville Prison to the Ebongweni ‘C-Max’ maximum security prison in Kokstad in March after prison officials claimed they had uncovered a plot which would jeopardise the facility. He has been kept in isolation for four months while Patel and Mussa remain at the Westville Prison and are also believed to be in isolation. The state proposed a postponed date of 12 December to allow for investigation, much to the annoyance of Mthethwa who argued that his clients, especially Del Vecchio, had been subjected to harsh treatment, and had been already been detained in custody for six months. Barnard informed the court of the sensitivity and complex nature of investigations at this stage. ‘The state is awaiting an expert report from an anthropologist based in the USA and digital report evidence downloaded from the cellphones. ‘It seems that the licence software, which is needed to download cellphone reports, has expired but it is being addressed at a high level as it affects the investigation. ‘The state has secured most of its witness’ statements,’ she said. A lover’s quarrel Just before proceedings were brought to a close, the court heard that Del Vecchio and Patel had been writing each other love letters whilst being detained. Mthethwa also brought it to the attention of Magistrate Khalil that Del Vecchio was going through a divorce and requested to be transferred back to Westville Prison in order for him to have easier access to his legal team. ‘On 12 August a sheriff went to Kokstad where he served my client with a summons. ‘For him to properly defend this divorce matter he would like the court to consider having him moved back to Westville Prison. Magistrate Khalil said it was not within his power to direct the prison authorities as to where the accused are detained.