An elite South African police force has launched a hunt for a British couple who were kidnapped more than a week ago near a popular holiday spot in southern KwaZulu-Natal province.
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The couple, who live in Cape Town and have dual British and South African citizenship, were kidnapped on Feb. 12 near the Bivane dam in the small town of Vryheid.
Police declined to disclose their names, but local media reported they were on holiday in the area to collect indigenous plants and seeds. The couple were described as a 74-year-old man who moved from Britain to South Africa in the 1970s and his South African-born wife, 63, according to Reuters.
The victims’ vehicle was found in the northern part of the city of Durban and is undergoing forensic investigation, said Captain Lloyd Ramovha, a spokesman for the Hawks police unit. “We’ve got a dedicated team that’s out there 24-7,” Mr Ramovha said. “The search continues.”
The British Foreign Office updated its travel advisory this week to make note of the kidnapping under the advisory’s terrorism section, which also cautions travellers about ongoing terror threats from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in South Africa.
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It identifies “a threat from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh [Isil], to carry out so called ‘lone actor’ attacks targeting public places including where foreigners may gather.”
A spokesman for the British High Commission in Pretoria said that the information about the threat from Isil was already part of the government’s existing travel advice, and not added in connection with the kidnapping.
“We are working closely with the South African authorities following the kidnap of two South African-British dual nationals and have offered consular support to the family,” an FCO spokesperson said. “As there is an ongoing investigation we cannot comment further.”
The Hawks identified two suspects in the case as Mr Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and Mrs Fatima Patel, 27. Both were arrested on Feb. 16 and are due to appear in court on March 1.
The pair face charges of kidnapping as well as robbery and arson in connection with crimes that took place last year, as well as offences that fall under an anti-terrorism act.
Local media reported that police and intelligence agencies have linked the couple’s disappearance to an Isil-affiliated cell in South Africa, but Mr Ramovha of the Hawks denied there was anything in the case that “pointed to” Isil or extremist activity.
Mrs Patel was arrested in 2016 around the same time as two twin brothers were charged with allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in South Africa and attempting to join Isil.
Mrs Patel was only charged with possession of illegal fire arms and explosives, the Hawks said. That case is still in the courts.
“We wish to advise that we have no information that points to an imminent threat on South African soil,” Mr Ramovha said. “This country has capable security services – and that is a fact.”
The US and Britain warned in 2016 of the possibility of attacks by jihadist extremists in South Africa’s major cities. The country has so far been spared the jihadist attacks that have struck several other countries on the continent. Muslims account for just 1.5 per cent of South Africa’s 54 million people.