Operatives working in counter-terrorism units have made a breakthrough in the search for Rod and Rachel Saunders by arresting a fourth suspect. The British couple went missing while touring KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. Authorities have reason to believe that the botanists from Cape Town were stalked and possibly murdered by individuals with strong ties to the infamous terror group ISIS.
The fourth suspect, whose identity is being withheld by authorities, was in close contact with terrorists who may have plotted Saunders disappearance and death. Earlier in the case, husband and wife, Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio and Fatima Patel, were arrested and accused of having ties with international terrorist organizations. Their neighbor, 19-year-old Themba Xulu, was also arrested for suspected involvement.
During initial investigations, authorities seized the couple’s phone. They found messages between the couple and the newly apprehended suspect discussing punishment for those opposed to the caliphate. The investigating officer’s affidavit states that the communications between the three parties began before the couple’s disappearance, and it lasted until six days after the Saunders’ were last seen.
While evidence is still forthcoming, investigators found messages between the parties discussing punishment for those opposed to their views and putting “fear in to the heart of the kuffar (non-believer)”. On February 10, suspect Del Vecchio messaged his wife and the fourth suspect that the elderly couple were in the forest ready for the “good hunt”. He mentioned that they had the equipment. Investigators are convinced that these messages are describing the missing suspects. Authorities additionally noted that the fourth suspect’s passport was found at the home of Del Vecchio.