Government is being warned to tread carefully with regards to the religion factor in the terrorism trial of the Thulsie brothers.
They were arrested earlier this month for allegedly planning to bomb the United States embassy and Jewish institutions in South Africa.
A security analyst said both the Islamic State (IS) and the Muslim community would be paying very close attention to this case, given the media attention it has been receiving.
The twins, Brandon-Lee and Toni-Lee Thulsie, are set to appear again today in the Johannesburg Magistrates’ Court for their bail hearing. The 23-year-olds have since acquired the services of Czech mobster Radovan Krecjir’s lawyer Annelene van den Heever.
In what is arguably the first IS-related case of terrorism being tried in South Africa, the Thulsie twins stand accused of plotting to leave South Africa twice to join thousands of recruits in Syria who have entered the war-torn country under the organisation’s instructions and for allegedly subsequently plotting to perform terrorist attacks in South Africa.
Having been on the radar of South African police since they and two others first tried to leave the country, the twins were arrested after their home in Newclare, Johannesburg, was raided and several weapons and artillery were found in their possession. Two other people, also young siblings, were arrested during the same raid in Azaadville, Krugersdorp. They are being tried in a separate case at the Kagiso Magistrates’ Court, where they are expected to go on trial later this year.
Senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Martin Ewi, told The Citizen that the South African government simply needs to keep religion, specifically Islam, out of the trial and focus on the laws they stand accused of breaking. This, he said, would be instrumental in preventing the South African state being viewed as having singled out the brothers because they were Muslim and, more importantly, help prevent other radicalised individuals from wanting to retaliate if the trial is perceived as a direct attack on Islam or the IS.
“People want to see justice being carried out, because if they don’t see justice, some might see this as a blatant attack on Islam.”
This, he added, might manifest in a widespread outcry from the Muslim community or, in a more sinister way, in the form of an attack from radicalised individuals acting on behalf of IS.
Ewi emphasised that the court had to ensure that the state was not seen as trying to put Islam as a religion in a bad light by appearing to use the twins’s religion against them.
“First, government has to remove religion from this case because it is not about Islam. They were not arrested for being Muslim. Once people feel that injustices have been done, that too could radicalise some people to go to the extent of actually carrying out the attacks.”
He said it would be to the government’s benefit if they worked with the Muslim community to root out terrorism rather than appearing to be acting against the religion. There was merit, he said, in understanding the broader perspective of the Muslim community.
“When the Islamic State carries out bombings in Syria, there is a lot of talk, but when the United States bombs Syria, we don’t say anything.
“This kind of logic does not make sense.”
He said that these were the kind of injustices that gave rise to radicalism in many countries.
The case itself
The Thulsies’ bail hearing was postponed yesterday at the request of the brothers’ counsel who had requested documentation from the prosecution prior to the hearing. Earlier it emerged that a new charge sheet had been submitted and the prosecution was not able to reach an agreement with the defence team representing the twins.
A large contingent of heavily armed security personnel peppered the area outside courtroom 13 yesterday morning ahead of the bail hearing. A sizeable group of friends and family members waited inside.
The wife of one of the brothers, Adeelah, was also in the gallery flanked by close family members and two young men, dressed in traditional Muslim attire. They told The Citizen that they were friends of the accused. The brothers were dressed in matching grey hoodies.
They had shaved their beards, but their hair remained unkempt. Their lawyer, Annelene van den Heever, said last Monday an amended charge sheet was attached and she requested the disclosure of certain documents from the state, but the magistrate refused, saying that the state had no onus to disclose the documents at this stage and that he had no power to fulfil that request.
Van den Heever asked magistrate Pieter du Plessis to let proceedings stand down so she could consult her clients. Du Plessis postponed the matter to today.