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Police and intelligence agencies have linked the disappearance of a Cape Town couple to a cell with ties to the global terror group ISIS.

The missing couple, whose names have been withheld by authorities, are understood to have been kidnapped while on holiday in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the wake of their disappearance, a man and woman who had been held under surveillance by counter-terrorism agents were arrested in a covert swoop in Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The suspects have been identified as Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio,[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]38, and Fatima Patel,[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]27.

Patel and Del Vecchio appeared in the Vryheid Magistrate’s Court on Monday.

Patel was previously arrested – with her brother Ebrahim – in Azaadville on the West Rand by the Hawks during anti-terrorism raids in July 2016. Also arrested at the time were twin brothers Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, accused of planning terrorist attacks at the behest of the Islamic State. 

Their trial resumed in Johannesburg on Tuesday but was postponed to April 16.

Both had been on our radar for a long time.

Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi

Sources with knowledge of the investigation told TimesLIVE that Del Vecchio and Patel had used the affluent coastal hamlet of Ballito as a base, and that they were found in possession of Islamic State recruiting material.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]  

Hawks spokesman Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi said that during surveillance of Patel and her partner, operatives had gathered information allegedly linking them to the couple from Cape Town.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip] 

“Both had been on our radar for a long time. We had had them under surveillance and while this operation was under way, we gathered information on two people from Cape Town who had gone on a trip to the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal,” he said.

“The Cape Town couple had left the Western Cape on February 5 and they were expected to return on February 15. They were going on a trip to collect seeds and indigenous plants.”

Mulaudzi said police then approached the couple’s family, who had no idea that they were missing.

“We informed them about the disappearance of their loved ones, and they told us the couple had last communicated with them on February 12. We decided to stage an operation with the terrorism task force and we arrested two people in Vryheid,” he said.

“They are facing charges of kidnapping, alternatively robbery, and possible murder; arson in respect of several hectares of sugar-cane fields they [allegedly] torched and destroyed in 2017; as well as possible contraventions of the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.”

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