The State successfully opposed bail for the terrorism-accused Thulsie twins in the Johannesburg High Court on Thursday, arguing that if freed they might join Islamist insurgents fighting in northern Mozambique.
This was what had happened to their close friend and former accomplice Renaldo Smith, a witness in their case who had fled South Africa, prosecutor Adele Barnard told the court.
Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie, 27, were arrested in July 2016 and charged with terrorism and other offences arising from two alleged attempts to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State as well as hatching plans to bomb or otherwise attack US, UK, Russia, French and Israeli embassies, Jewish individuals and interests, the South African state arms company Denel and Shi’a Muslim mosques in this country.
Smith, a close friend, who had converted to Islam with the twins in 2013, joined them in trying to fly out of OR Tambo International Airport in April 2015 on a Qatar Airways flight to Turkey, the State’s affidavits said. The investigating officer in the case, Wynand Olivier, testified that from Turkey they had intended to enter Syria to join Islamic State.
But someone tipped off Qatar Airways about their true intentions and the airline’s officials wouldn’t let them on the flight. In July they attempted a different route, driving to Maputo and trying to board a Kenya Airways flight. But again they were blocked.
Smith later became a witness in the case but then disappeared. According to Barnard, he resurfaced in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, having joined the insurgents who are wreaking havoc there and who are affiliated to Islamic State.
Barnard told the High Court on Thursday that on 28 May 2018 an incident report was received of the beheading and killing of locals in Macomia and Monjane in northern Mozambique “where 10 citizens were brutally murdered in these attacks”.
She added that on 31 May 2018 the Twitter user @JihadoScope had tweeted that, “Day after reports of Islamist militants beheading 10 people in Mozambique, Islamic State supporters on Telegram circulate photos allegedly showing militants in the Country and promising a forthcoming ‘Bay’ah’ or pledge of allegiance.’
This tweet accompanied a photograph of several armed men posing in the veld of what was supposedly Cabo Delgado. Barnard’s submission to the court was that one of the men was Renaldo Smith. She said it was not clear if Smith had made contact with the Thulsies, “but in light of their close friendship, the possibility cannot be ruled out”.
In any case, she told the judge, the possibility of the Thulsies “trying to join their friend in Mozambique cannot be excluded”. She stressed that the two Thulsies had “already used this route before”, referring to their July 2015 trip to Maputo to try to fly to Syria.
In general, she said, the Thulsies should not be granted bail as it would be too easy for them to conceal their identities and disappear. They had an immediate national and international support system that they could use to evade their trial. They would then pose a real threat to national and international security because of the international nature of the crimes of which they were accused and the fact that they already had the skills and the knowledge to commit a terrorist attack in South Africa.
Brandon-Lee said in an affidavit that he and his brother were being held “under circumstances that are clearly not fit for any human being and in single cells”.
“We are effectively kept in isolation from other inmates… Our cells are extremely cold and dirty,” he said.
They also contended they should be released because of the long delay in bringing them to trial, their poor health and the weakness of the State’s case against them.
But Judge Ramarumo Monama dismissed the application for bail. He said all the delays in getting the case to trial had been caused by the Thulsies and their legal team – expect for the recent delay caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. There was “settled law” that poor health was not grounds for releasing prisoners and that they should rather seek treatment in jail. And, he said, the State had presented a strong case against the Thulsies of committing crimes that were very serious and could even incur life sentences.
Monama urged both sides to work together to bring the case to trial without further delay. DM