At least three suspects, including a man found in Mozambique, have been arrested in connection with an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped outside her school in Mayfair, Johannesburg last year.
News broke earlier on Wednesday that Maha Qassim, who had been missing since November 2021, had been found unharmed. She was snatched outside the EP Baumann Primary School gates.
Eyewitnesses said two armed men pulled up in a Toyota Yaris as pupils were lining up outside the school to be screened and sanitised for Covid-19.
The kidnappers allegedly knew the girl, and called her by name.
In a statement issued later on Wednesday, police said Qassim was rescued from a house in Devland, Soweto around midnight, by crime intelligence anti-kidnapping task team members, and assisted by the Johannesburg Flying Squad.
Suspects who were at the house “evaded arrest”.
But so far, police confirmed that a 40-year-old man was arrested in Mozambique on 31 December 2021, and two others earlier in December 2021.
The latter, 50-year-old Ayanda Kekana and 36-year-old Fortune Kambile Ndlovu, appeared in the Johannesburg Magitstrate’s Court on 7 December 2021, where their bail applications were denied.
Kekana and Ndlovu are due back in court on Friday.
The man arrested in Mozambique is due to be extradited to South Africa, with police saying Interpol was currently busy processing the extradition.
It is not, however, known how many other suspects formed part of the syndicate to kidnap and house Qassim, or what their intentions were.
Investigations into the kidnapping continue.
Girl safe at home
After receiving a clean bill of health at a medical facility, Qassim’s mother received the call she had waited two months for, and collected her child at a police station on Wednesday morning.
Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said additional counselling would be provided by the department’s psycho-social unit, but was “delighted” to receive news of the girl’s return.
South Africa has seen a sharp increase in kidnappings over the past two years.
Police Minister Bheki Cele, while releasing the second quarter crime statistics in November, confirmed 2,000 kidnappings had been reported in South Africa between July and September 2021.
He said officials analysed a sample of 620 cases. In that sample, 52 kidnappings were ransom-related, while seven involved human trafficking.
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Compiled by Nica Richards. Additional reporting by Cheryl Kahla