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Friends of missing Cape Town couple Rod and Rachel Saunders‚ alleged to have been kidnapped by people linked to the Islamic State‚ have issued a desperate plea for their safe return.

The Saunders‚ both prominent botanists‚ were last seen on February 10 near Bivane Dam on the outskirts of Vryheid.

Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio‚[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]38‚ Fatima Patel‚[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]27 and Themba Xulu‚[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]19‚ have been arrested in connection with their disappearance.

In a statement issued on Friday‚ those close to the couple expressed their shock and dismay.

“We appeal to the kidnappers to behave with restraint and return them to us quickly and in good health‚” they wrote.[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]“We trust that the authorities are doing all that they can to ensure that Rod and Rachel come home to us soon‚ and we thank them for their efforts. The situation remains extremely sensitive.”

According to papers before court‚ over and above the kidnapping and theft charges levelled against all three suspects‚ Patel and Del Vecchio are alleged to have contravened the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act by hoisting an Islamic State flag at their home in the Ndlovini Reserve near Eshowe.

Del Vecchio faces a second count for his involvement in extremist web forums. He is “connected with terrorist activities by participating in extremist web forums that support ISIS [Islamic State] and offering to supply phone numbers and sim cards that are not traceable”‚ the charge sheet read.

Cell phones stolen from the Saunders were allegedly found in the possession of Xulu and are expected to help police decode the circumstances of their disappearance.

It is understood that online banking applications may have been used to drain R734‚000 from accounts held by the Saunders.

The trio return to court on Tuesday for a formal bail application.

Anyone with information can report it to the police on 0860[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]010[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]111 or SMS the anonymous tip-off line‚[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]32111‚ or contact Colonel Flynn on 079[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]886[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]6792.

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