Sunday Times

Tragedy of SA man who was killed in Syria

Vereenigin­g father tells of family’s heartbreak


A 23-year-old man from Vereenigin­g has been named as one of the first South Africans to have died in Syria after apparently travelling there to join the terrorist group Islamic State.

A confidenti­al foreign intelligen­ce report claims that Fayaaz Valli was one of a group of young South Africans who pretended they were working for an orphanage on the Turkish border but had crossed over into Syria to join IS.

The report said he was buried in Syria in October 2013 after being “killed in combat”.

His heartbroke­n father, Riyad Valli, said his son had told him he was going to do humanitari­an work in Syria when he left his home in the middle-class suburb of Roshnee in Vereenigin­g two years ago.

He said he did not believe his son had joined IS — and if he had known, “I would never have allowed him to go.”

Valli is one of two South Africans known to have died in Syria while fighting for the jihadist group.

The other man, whose identity is known to the Sunday Times, also comes from Roshnee. He was said to have travelled to Turkey after a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Before leaving South Africa, he settled all debts, “distribute­d all his valuables” and sought forgivenes­s from those he met.

The intelligen­ce report said both men’s families were told they had died in car accidents.

On Friday, imams at mosques across the country took the unpreceden­ted step of delivering a “national unified” sermon warning Muslims about IS and encouragin­g them to be wary of its recruitmen­t activities in South Africa.

At a mosque in Houghton, Johannesbu­rg, men listened attentivel­y, with much of the discussion centring on what the attraction of the jihadist group was to those who have made the journey to Syria or Iraq.

The sermon is said to have been a direct result of a high-level meeting last month between Minister of State Security David Mahlobo and prominent Muslim scholars and organisati­ons about locals wanting to join IS.

Mahlobo is said to have revealed to them the names of 23 South Africans deported from Turkey on suspicion of wanting to join the organisati­on.

The Sunday Times has establishe­d that several South Africans have travelled to Turkey in recent months and attempted to cross the border into Syria to join IS or another terrorist group known as the alNusra Front. These included:

A Durban man in his 20s who spent three weeks in a Turkish jail before being deported to South Africa in April after trying to slip into Syria; and

Twenty-two people who flew either on their own or with their families to Abu Dhabi and then to Turkey before trying to cross the border into Syria.

At least half of them were arrested and deported while the rest managed to enter Syria.

Last month, a 15-year-old Cape Town girl who was en route to the Middle East to allegedly join IS was removed from a Johannesbu­rg-bound jet.

According to the intelligen­ce report, the “young boys” who had accompanie­d Valli returned to South Africa after his death.

The report states the recruiters for the trips to Syria were in their mid-30s. They claimed they were raising funds for an orphanage on the Syrian border. The orphanage did not exist: the money went to IS.

According to the report, community leaders investigat­ed the matter and “cut off the collection drive, which implicated a large amount of innocent and unknowing community members”.

Mahlobo’s spokesman, Brian Dube, would not confirm the meeting with the Muslim leaders. He said meetings between the minister and community representa­tives were confidenti­al. “The issue of internatio­nal terrorism and active recruitmen­ts within social media is a matter of concern that requires the total sum of all our efforts.”

Maryam Shaqra, first secretary for the Syrian embassy in Pretoria, said most South African “humanitari­an” organisati­ons entered Syria illegally across the Turkish border “maybe because they have a hidden agenda, including supporting terrorist organisati­ons”.

She said her government was prepared to help any humanitari­an organisati­on to enter Syria via the correct channels, but none elect to enter legally.

The Iraqi ambassador, Dr Hisham Al-Alawi, said IS focused on South Africa because, among other things, it had “a sizable” Muslim community. “Many of them are politicall­y aware and active and have their own grievances when it comes to politics or socioecono­mics or religious issues,” he said.

Islamic State focused on South Africa’s ‘sizable’ Muslim community

 ??  ?? RECRUITED? Fayaaz Valli, who left South Africa in 2013
RECRUITED? Fayaaz Valli, who left South Africa in 2013

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