Body found in river ‘belongs to Brit kidnapped by ISIS in South Africa’

Police searching for a Brit couple allegedly kidnapped in South Africa have confirmed a body found in a crocodile-infested river belongs to missing botanist Rod Saunders.

Businessman Rod, 73, and wife Rachel, 64, vanished nearly 11 weeks ago while on a seed gathering mission in the remote Drakensberg Mountains and have not been seen or heard of since.

The badly decomposed body of a white male was found washed up on a riverbank in the crocodile infested River Tugela seven weeks ago covered in crabs and totally unidentifiable.

Local police in Kwa-Zulu Natal were handed the body at the end of February but did not connect it with the massive hunt being carried out for the British couple and left it in a mortuary.

In the meantime four people believed to be linked to the terrorist group ISIS had been arrested in connection with their kidnapping and disappearance but no confirmed trace has been found of their bodies.

One of the alleged gang members is said to have told the South African Police Service’s elite unit The Hawks that he had wrapped their bodies in their sleeping bags and dumped them in the River Tugela..

However despite an extensive search of the river in Kwa-Zulu Natal by by divers and police on the riverbanks no trace had been found around a bridge he said he threw them off

Police have now made the vital breakthrough after a search of local mortuaries for unclaimed bodies since the date the couple disappeared revealed the body of an elderly male.

DNA samples were taken to discover if was Mr Saunders and sent to a police laboratory and the results came through today confirming it was him and his relatives and friends are being informed.

Hawks spokesman Captain Lloyd Ramovha confirmed the results and said that renewed efforts to find wife Rachel would be made by divers in the area Mr Saunders’ body was found washed up.

He said:“Investigators are also visiting all the morgues in the search area to see if there are any other unidentified bodies that fit the time frame that could be Rachel”.

Rod and Rachel vanished while collecting seeds of rare flowers in the mountains and forests of Kwa-Zulu Natal for their company Silverhill Seeds in Cape Town which export them all over the world.

One of the last people to see them both alive was BBC TV presenter Nick Bailey who filmed the couple in the Drakensberg mountains for an episode yet to be screened of his show Gardeners World.

He tweeted a photograph of all three of them together in the rolling green foothills just days before they were kidnapped praising their incredible botany knowledge and plugging their business in Cape Town.

Fears for their safety grew when they vanished just days later and their 4 x 4 white Land Cruiser was found 150 miles from Durban with bloodstains in the boot which turned out to be from fellow botanist Rachel.

A couple with links to ISIS were arrested soon after and are said to have been on a £40,000 spending spree with the Saunders credit cards and emptied large sums of cash at ATM’s which links them to the kidnapping.

Accused Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and his wife Fatima Patel, 27, were already on a suspected terrorist warning list and ISIS material was found in their home along with evidence linking them to the crime.

They have appeared before magistrates charged with kidnapping, assault and robbery of the couple as well as charges under the Terrorism and Related Activities Act and have been remanded in custody.

A bail hearing heard that text messages from the couple revealed they had targeted the Saunders as part of a terrorist plot to “kill the kuffar (non believers) and abduct their allies, to destroy infrastructure and to put fear in the heart of the kuffar”.

A third person was later arrested who was found to be in possession of the Saunders mobile phones but the breakthrough came with the arrest of on-the-run Ahmad Jackson Mussa who was known as “bazooka”.

The Malawian’s passport was found at the home of Del Vecchio and Patel sparking a five week manhunt to find him in South Africa and when he was caught he is said to have confessed to dumping their bodies in a river.

South African media said police sources took them to a place on the River Tugela where he threw them in.

The river is infested with Nile crocodiles which can grow up to over 12 feet in length and had made it difficult for police divers to search the floodwaters during a week long operation in which they found nothing.

A text found on Del Vecchio’s phone to Mussa read:"When the brothers in Kenya go out and do this work it is very important that the body of the victim is never found and it remains a missing person case".

It would seem, say police, as per the text the bodies were carefully concealed but if the DNA of the body found in the river is that of Rod Saunders then the body of his wife should be found close by.

British born Rod and his South African born wife who holds a UK passport had no children and worked from their bungalow home in Kenilworth, Cape Town, which they shared with their two rescue cats.

It is thought they were kidnapped in the Ngoye Forest Reserve near Mtunzini 80 miles north of Durban.

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