South Africa


Dismissal of Islamic State case sparks controversy

The case against 12 men acused of terrorism in the name of Islamic State was struck from the roll of the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Monday. (Photo: Unsplash / Tingey Injury Law Firm)

Alleged ‘terrorists’ accused of murder at a Verulam mosque go free.

Was it a travesty of justice or the correction of a miscarriage of the law when on Monday 13 July the Verulam Magistrate’s Court threw out the case against 12 men accused of perpetrating terrorist activities in the name of Islamic State? 

The case has provoked heated debate, with accusations of Islamophobia and alarmism running one way and counter-charges of appeasement and denialism running the other way. 

The debate only intensified on Monday when magistrate Irfaan Khalil struck it off the roll, citing undue delays by the State. But the State said it would be back. 

The 12 accused had been held for more than 20 months on a raft of charges arising from the placing of incendiary pipebombs in Woolworths stores, at the Durban July horse race and at a Verulam mosque, as well as murder, attempted murder, arson and extortion arising from an attack on that mosque, all in 2018. 

They were also charged with furthering the aims of the global terrorist group Islamic State.

But Khalil dismissed the case on Monday, saying the accused had been prejudiced by a series of adjournments by the State which he said had failed to provide substantive evidence in the matter. 

He ruled that the case could not be reinstated without a directive from the director of public prosecutions (DPP) in KwaZulu-Natal. 

His ruling was greeted with cries of Allahu Akbar (God is Great) fists punched in the air, high fives, big smiles and warm embraces among the men and their supporters at the court.  

However, senior state prosecutor Mahen Naidu told TimesLIVE that the State had every intention to proceed with the case. 

He insisted that the Covid-19 pandemic had hampered the police investigation, despite the court’s rejection of this plea. Prosecutors had argued at an earlier hearing in 2019 that they had to wade through five terabytes of data from 216 devices seized from the men, TimesLIVE reported.

“We will finalise our investigations and approach the DPP to get the authority to prosecute and to place the matter back on the roll,” Naidu told the news outlet.  

Farhad Hoomer, Ahmed Haffejee‚ Goolam Haffejee‚ Thabit Mwenda‚ Mohamad Akbar‚ Seiph Mohamed‚ Amani Mayani‚ Abubakar Ali‚ Abbas Jooma‚ Mahammed Sobruin‚ Ndikumana Shabani and Iddy Omari were arrested in a Hawks raid on 5 October 2018.

Apart from other charges, Hoomer is accused of masterminding the attack on the Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam on 10 May 2018 where Verulam mechanic Abbas Essop was stabbed to death and Ali Nchiyane, the imam; and Mohammed Ali, the caretaker, were seriously injured.    

Nchiyane said at the time he was sure it was a religious, terrorist attack. The attackers had first prayed “and after they prayed, they wanted to kill,” he told reporters then. 

“They definitely had a religious motive,” Nchiyane said. He added that the attackers were not robbers and did not want phones, laptops, money or clothes. “They strictly wanted to kill us.” 

These circumstances have prompted the theory that the attack was sectarian. The Imman Hussain Mosque belongs to the minority Shi’a sect of Islam, while IS is strictly Sunni.  

A justice official, who did not want to be named, called the decision to strike the case off the roll a “great travesty of justice”, also complaining of the way the NPA had taken specialist prosecutors off the case. 

And on Monday an outraged Azad Seedat, chairperson and founder of the mosque and chairperson of the Shi’a community in KwaZulu-Natal, said he was deeply saddened by the magistrate’s decision to throw out the case. 

In an interview with eNCA, he angrily berated the prosecutors for the way they had handled the case, saying they should have focused on charging the “racist Muslims” for the attack on the mosque and not bothered with the other charges. 

Seedat said there was “something fishy” about the way the State was handling the case, including the NPA’s withdrawal from the case of Adele Barnard – “a specialist prosecutor who knows these matters in and out” and replacing her with prosecutors who knew nothing about the subject. 

Seedat said not only Shi’a Muslims, but all of South Africa was no longer safe as “terrorists had been set free”. 

“They should sentence them to life imprisonment, lock them up and throw away the damn key,” he declared. 

He said he would demand of the KwaZulu-Natal DPP that the case be reinstated and would also appeal to President Cyril Ramaphosa to ensure that happened, as he said Ramaphosa had given him an undertaking in his mosque that “justice is going to be served”. Ramaphosa did visit the mosque soon after the attack. 

A justice official, who did not want to be named, called the decision to strike the case off the roll a “great travesty of justice”, also complaining of the way the NPA had taken specialist prosecutors off the case. 

However, a security expert, who also wished to remain anonymous, welcomed the decision, saying the State’s case that the 12 men were part of an IS cell, based on the discovery of a few IS flags and pamphlets in their possession, was dubious from the start. This expert said the perpetrators were more likely “organised crime”. 

The accused have been reported as saying that they intend suing the state for wrongful arrest, claiming that that the case had disrupted their lives and their businesses. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options