Rodney Saunders: South Africa identifies body of missing horticulturalist

South African police have identified the body of a British horticulturalist who was kidnapped with his wife in a case with suspected links to the Islamic State group (IS).

Rodney Saunders body was found by fishermen in February
Rodney Saunders body was found by fishermen in February

Rodney Saunders, 73, and his wife Rachel, 63, disappeared while looking for rare seeds in KwaZulu-Natal province in February.

The body was discovered days later in a river. Rachel has not been found.

The news came as the four alleged kidnappers appeared in a Durban court.

The British Foreign Office is yet to confirm the positive identification of Rodney Saunders. The couple have dual South African and British citizenship.

“A dedicated team remain on the ground for the search of Rachel,” police said in a statement. Authorities are checking mortuaries and doing forensic and DNA tests.

Suspects Fatima Patel, 27, and Saffydeen Aslam del Vecchio, 38, were arrested on 16 February, one day before the body was found. Before the arrest, they were both under police surveillance and are alleged to have hoisted an IS flag in the reserve where the couple disappeared.

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Another suspect, Themba Xulu, 19, was arrested after being found in possession of the victims’ mobile phones. The fourth suspect is a 36-year-old Malawian, Ahmad Mussa.

The BBC has declined to comment on reports that, shortly before they were kidnapped, the Saunders had been working with a film crew from the television programme Gardeners’ World.

After the couple’s disappearance, their car was found with blood marks and 734,000 rand (£42,000) was reportedly drained from their bank accounts.

There have been no known attacks by IS, or any other jihadist group, in South Africa.

The most prominent case ever linked to IS in the country involved the Thulsie twins, Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee. They were arrested during raids in 2016 that also saw Fatima Patel detained – though she was not charged at the time.

The twins are expected to face trial on terrorism charges related to alleged plans to attack the US embassy in South Africa and Jewish targets.

The Saunders’ disappearance led the British Foreign Office to update its warning about the threat of a terrorist attack in the country, which upset many South Africans. – BBC