A suspected Dutch jihadist is believed to have been involved in the deadly kidnapping of a British couple in South Africa and of contacting a top Islamic State group official, Dutch media reported on Monday.
The 29-year-old man, only identified as “Mohammed G.”, briefly appeared in the Rotterdam District Court where he was accused of “belonging to a terrorist organisation,” Dutch news reports said.
Earlier this year, the bodies of renowned British botanists Rachel Saunders, 63, and her husband Rodney Saunders, 74, were discovered after they went missing during a trip to look for rare seeds in KwaZulu-Natal.
The two are believed to have been kidnapped by suspected jihadists, who raised an IS flag in a reserve in the region where the Saunders disappeared.
Mohammed G., from Limburg province in the south of the Netherlands, is “suspected of involvement in the fatal kidnapping in South Africa,” Dutch national news agency ANP said.
Dutch prosecutors alleged Mohammed G. “tried to buy bitcoins” using Rachel Saunders’ credit card details, ANP said.
“He also had contact with the highest ranking IS spokesman in Africa,” the Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported, naming the official as Abu Fida, also known as Mohammed Abdi Ali.
Abu Fida was arrested in Kenya in 2016 and according to information from the FBI, received direct instructions from the IS leadership in Syria, the NOS said.
Prosecutors said Mohammed G. knew two of the Saunders’ kidnappers in South Africa and also worked with a Somali-based suspect.
“The four wanted to raise funds to set up a training camp in Somalia and buy weapons,” the NOS said.
“They also controlled social media accounts” and advised prospective jihadists wanting to travel to Libya.
Rodney Saunders’s body was found by fishermen on February 17 in the Tugela river and was positively identified several weeks later.
Police gave no details of where Rachel Saunders’s body was found but positively identified her in June.
South African police arrested four suspects alleged to be part of the group behind the Saunders’ kidnapping after an intensive manhunt in KwaZulu-Natal in February.
A multi-country investigation was still ongoing and Mohammed G. was remanded in custody, the ANP said.