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Islamic State Activity in South Africa: A Critical Analysis of what is currently Known – Dr. Barend Prinsloo

October 26, 2018


Islamic State Activity in South Africa: A Critical Analysis of what is currently Known

By Dr. Barend Prinsloo

North-West University, South Africa

Volume 6 (2018), Number 17 (October 2018)

  1. Introduction

Media reports are rife with the recent arrests of 11 suspects who are seemingly connected to the Islamic State (IS) and believed to be responsible for several attacks in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. These attacks include the attack on the Shi’a Mosque in Verulam in 2018 and the placement of home-made bombs which could be remotely detonated via a mobile phone.


  1. Facts

During the past two years, at least four unprecedented attacks or incidences occurred in South Africa, some of which are attributed to IS activity in South Africa. These four incidences will be factually discussed to determine their relationship, if any.


  1. The Thulsie twins and Fatima Patel

The Thulsie twins (Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie) were arrested in Johannesburg on July 2016. They were charged with 12 counts relating to contraventions of the Protection of the Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (Pocdatara); and one charge for fraud, linked to the alleged use of fake passports. They were allegedly plotting a series of attacks on behalf of IS against Jewish targets and the embassy of the United States of America (USA).  It is also alleged that the twins were attempting to join IS in Syria. Two years after their arrest their matter is yet to go on trial after being postponed about 30 times.[1] Fatima Patel was arrested in Johannesburg around the same time as the twins but no connection were evident between her and the twins. She was later released and she moved to KwaZulu-Natal.[2]


  1. Rodney and Rachel Saunders

In February 2018, Britons Rodney and Rachel Saunders were kidnapped in KwaZulu-Natal. Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio (38) and his wife Fatima Patel (27) were arrested during the same month for the crime. Del Vecchio claimed to be a member of IS at the time.[3] Del Vecchio grew up in Durban North, although his family originally hailed from Mozambique.  He was known as Thomas Vecchio before he converted to Islam.[4] In March 2018, two more suspects,ThembamandlaXulu (19) and Ahmad Jackson Mussa (36), were arrested in connection with the crime.  The investigation concluded that the Britons were killed and their bodies discarded in the uThukela river.[5] In July, Dutch authorities arrested Mohammed Ghorshid – trying to buy bitcoins with a credit card belonging to one of the murdered Saunders couple.  Ghorshid was on a watchlist due to his links with IS.[6]


  • The Imam Hussein Mosque attack in Verulam

On 10 May 2018, an attack was launched on the Verulam Mosque in KwaZulu-Natal. Three knife-wielding men killed one person, attempted to kill two others, tried to set the Mosque alight and left a home-made bomb which was discovered a few days later.[7] Between March and August 2018, Durban and surrounding areas were plagued with several incidents of placing home-bombs in especially Woolworths stores, including widespread hoax calls.[8] Late in October 2018, 11 suspects were arrested originating from South Africa, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. FarhadHoomer, Ahmed Haffejee‚ ThabitMwenda‚ Mohamad Akbar‚ Seiph Mohamed‚ Amani Mayani‚ Abubakar Ali‚ Abbas Jooma‚ MahammedSobruin‚ NdikumanaShabani and Iddy Omaniwere charged with 14 criminal counts including murder, attempted murder, arson, extortion and the violation of Pocdatara.Hoomerwas identified as the leader of the group.[9]  The state are claiming the following as evidence of the group’s involvement and ties to IS:


  • A white Hyundai Getz and VW Polo Vivo, allegedly used in the mosque attack and a Woolworths store in Gateway in Umhlanga, were registered in the name of FarhadHoomer.[10]
  • Hoomer’s house in Reservoir Hills was used as a training premises for the group.[11]
  • Hoomer is also the owner of the house where a victim was found kidnapped.[12]
  • Eight IS flags, propaganda manuals and bomb-making material, including a mobile phone resembling those used for these makeshift explosives were apparently discovered inside this house during a raid by the Hawks.[13][14] A device similar to the device used in the mosque attack and those found at Woolworths stores was found at Hoomer’s home.[15] In addition, the police’s explosives unit uncovered that all bombs found in various areas in Durban had the signature of the same manufacturer and could be detonated remotely.[16]
  • The State alleges this group of men is supportive of IS and its teachings about “financial jihad”. (This involves punishment of non-believers by robbing them of their wealth.)[17] Evidently, copies of the IS magazine Rumiyah were found where a directive was given to carry out “financial jihad” by targeting the enemies of wealth through extortion, theft and fraud among others.[18]
  • Three victims of extortion in the matter had previous dealings with Hoomer, and stated that they received an SMS demanding $100 000 (about R1.4m) in order for the accused to allegedly continue with their activities.[19]
  • One of the suspects (not identified) is a part of a WhatsApp group called Jundillah, which is a Sunni militant organisation based in Iran.[20]


  1. The Malmesbury mosque attack in the Western Cape

On 14 June 2018, two worshippers were killed (one South African and one Somali national) and several wounded in a stabbing attack at a mosque in Malmesbury in the Western Cape. The attacker was shot dead by police.[21] Witnesses later stated that the attacker introduced himself as Somali, and said he was on his way to Vredenburg on the West Coast. The man asked for a place to overnight and remained in the Mosque. At about 03:00, the man just got up and started stabbing people. He did so calmly and unhurriedly. Later, when confronted by the police he was shot dead when attempted to stab the police too.[22] The police later issued a statement confirming that no elements of extremism were found in the attack.Not motive was identified by the police and they identified him as 23-year-old NurArawal from Somalia.[23] However, the Chairperson of the Somali Community Board of South Africa identified the attacker as Noor Abdullah and stated that Abdullah was known in the community to suffer from bipolar disorder.[24] Thereby, de facto attributing the motive for the attack to mental illness.


  1. Conjectures made by analysts and the media


  • The Thulsie twins and Fatima Patel are connected. Fact: there is no supporting evidence in the public domain that they knew one another or were working together.
  • Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, Fatima Patel, ThembamandlaXulu and Ahmad Jackson Mussa were part of a larger IS affiliated grouping. Although evidence is mounting that at least Del Vecchio and Patel were committed and somehow in contact with other IS members, their main motive was to obtain funding for IS and there is no evidence that they formed part of a larger IS grouping in South Africa.
  • The 11 suspects in the Verulam attack, given their diverse nationalities, IS paraphernalia, alleged training facilities and alleged criminal acts, are clearly indicating that IS is moving in greater numbers to South Africa. Facts: The suspects and their modus operandi were more indicative of an ideologically inspired criminal gang with no formal training in bomb making and motivated by personal greed. They also happened to be Muslims. Having IS paraphernalia does not make them IS affiliated members. Perhaps it is best to refer to them asIS inspired members.
  • The Verulam and Malmesbury mosque attacks suggest that a conflict is brewing between the Sunni and Shi’a groupings. Fact: The Verulam mosque is a Shi’a mosque but the Malmesbury mosque is Sunni – so there is no relation or reason to think this is true.


  1. Conclusion

These occurrences are certainly worrisome and the likelihood is high that IS will inspire more people to continue such attacks and conform to extremist views in South Africa.  What makes South Africa different, however, are the strong relations and platforms for dialogue which exist among the Islamic community within South Africa.  The trigger factors to lure people into the world of extremism is very low in South Africa and is more found in global affairs. South Africans, and the authorities, should thus be wary to definitively link these events with IS; where instead it should be linked to ideological inspired criminal behaviour (which has many forms). Nevertheless, South Africa will need to understand that they should start to institute proper counter-terrorism measures which are different than the old focus on “terrorism” and measures to fight terrorists. South Africa does not have a terrorist problem.Finally, there is no known evidence which links these four incidences.


























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