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FOLLOW-UP: Security experts weigh in on kidnappings

Security experts say kidnapping for ransom has become lucrative to criminal syndicates.

The abduction and murder of Benoni businessman Shanshudeen Faki (68), co-owner of Dawood Megastore, in Dunswart, on May 11, sent shockwaves through the community.

It is alleged that a ransom demand of $3m was made on May 12.

In a tragic turn of events, Faki’s body was discovered in a veld near Dalpark Secondary School in Rangeview Road a day later.

The body was wrapped in white material, however, the cause of death has not yet been made public.

The Benoni City Times spoke to Chad Thomas, of IRS Forensic Investigations, about kidnapping for ransom.
He says these are not a new phenomenon, but a marked increase has been noted in the last few years.

“It is difficult to ascertain how many kidnappings of this nature occur annually, as many cases are not reported to the police or private investigators,” said Thomas.

Mike Bolhuis, of Specialised Security Services, echoed Thomas’ findings, saying abductors often claim that the families are actively being watched and their telephonic communications monitored to ensure that the authorities are not involved.

“Upon their safe release, victims will still refuse to report the matter, claiming that the perpetrators will continue monitoring their movements as well as that of their loved ones,” said Bolhuis.

Thomas said that recently released statistics indicates that South Africa has the highest kidnapping incidence in Africa and is rated seventh worldwide, with numbers set to surpass that of South American countries, such as Colombia and Mexico, from the late 80s to present.

Bolhuis said the country’s alarming abduction rate is heightening concerns about personal safety and security.
“With each reported abduction, the nation’s reputation as a tourist destination and an investment hub takes a significant hit, impacting its economic growth and global standing,” he said.

Thomas says that prominent business people within Muslim communities have been the targets of kidnapping for some time.

He said that gathered intelligence indicated that an Islamic syndicate, with links to international organised crime syndicates and purported terror cells, have been operating in Maputo, later diversifying operations to South Africa.

“The involvement of this group was first identified in Polokwane and Mahikeng, but their operations spread across the country to areas with large Muslim communities,” he said.

“The group make use of ‘soldiers for hire’ or ‘freelance’ criminal syndicates to gather intelligence on their prospective targets. This includes daily routines and movements.

“The perpetrators then pounce, executing the kidnapping with precision. In many cases the victims are involved in businesses offering fast-moving consumables often paid for in cash.”

He said kidnappers take advantage of this knowledge, thus demanding ransom in the high millions, requesting payment in rands, dollars, gold or diamonds.

“Payments are even demanded using the cross-border digital Hawala system,” Thomas said.

Mike Bolhuis of Specialised Security Services.

Bolhuis added that in the matter of high-profile kidnappings, kidnappers spend a great deal of time collecting information on their targets.

“They know exactly what the target is worth and how much money can readily be made available,” he said.

Both agreed that in many cases the victim is released following the ransom exchange.

“We have, unfortunately, noted with concern that these kidnappings are now extending beyond business people. Their families are now targeted, as was the case of the widely published kidnapping of the four Moti brothers, who were taken in Polokwane in 2021,” said Thomas.

He further warned that incidents of this nature will continue to rise as a result of so-called ‘copycat’ kidnapping syndicates, as well as so-called ‘express’ kidnappings.

“The SAPS Anti-Kidnapping Unit has proven effective in its actionable counter-intelligence operations. They have also acknowledged the integral role that the private security industry plays in assisting in identifying and preventing the scourge of kidnappings,” Thomas said.

Thomas and Bolhuis concluded by saying that mobile family tracking applications should be installed on every device.

“In cases of ‘express’ kidnappings these will assist in tracing the victim, as the perpetrators need their phone to be on in order to facilitate transfers of money,” said Thomas.

“Know your loved one’s routines and movements. When they deviate from these without prior notice, phone and check-up,” said Bolhuis.

Members of the community are reminded that there is no waiting period in reporting missing persons.

Kidnapping trends at a glance
Chad Thomas, of IRS Forensic Investigations highlighted the various kidnappings currently occurring countrywide:

• Kidnapping as a result of crime often refers to drivers and occupants being taken during hijackings.

He said it is likely to occur during late-night hijackings. Victims are held until criminals are able to establish whether the vehicles are fitted with anti-hijacking and tracking devices. Victims are often driven to ATMs shortly before midnight to make cash withdrawals. A second withdrawal may be made after midnight.

• Express kidnappings are on the increase.
“The dawn of the digital era has given rise to this form of kidnapping with most of us accessing our banking profiles via our phones,” he said.

“In these instances victims are selected at random. Suspects will force them to make money transfers or use the user’s profile to access loans or overdrafts available online.”

• Copycat kidnappings have also increased within township and informal settlements.
Victims are randomly targeted with ransom demands ranging from as little as R500 to tens of thousands of rands.

• In 2023, 16 500 cases of kidnapping were reported to the SAPS throughout the country.

Of these, 85% were women and children.
Investigations indicate that these cases were closely related to gender based violence (GBV) and marital disputes.

• The rise in kidnapping associated with human trafficking and slavery are also of grave concern.
People are often lured to other areas by syndicates with promises of well-paying jobs only to find themselves exploited.

ALSO READ: Suspect in kidnapping, murder of Benoni businessman killed in shoot-out with police

ALSO READ: Tragic end to kidnapping of prominent Benoni businessman



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