Into Thin Air, Escourt Abduction (repeats 10 December 2006)
Source :Carte Blanche
On Nov the 2nd last year the Washington Post carried a front page story that made headlines around the world.
It reported that some of the American CIA's most important Al Qaeda captives had been held at prison camps in Eastern Europe for the past four years.
To maintain this secret network of detention sites, the US Government used European airports and airspace.
Prisons in Thailand, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba were part of this system which is central to America's war on terror.
After 9/11 the hundreds of prisoners captured in the battlefields of Afghanistan became a problem and by 2003 the CIA brokered deals with other countries to set up a global internment network.
Since then the United States has been transporting captives across the world to these prisons, which they refer to as 'black sites'.
John Webb (Carte Blanche presenter): 'So is South African airspace violated as part of the war on terror? Have our airports been used and do government departments quietly co-operate in this regard with foreign intelligence agencies?'
This is Estcourt in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where a group of people believe this may very well be true.
The town has a devoted Muslim community, with its own school which is strictly run in accordance with Shariah law.
Moulana Mohammed Jeebhai, a Muslim cleric and Indian national, has been teaching here for the past three years. In search of a better life, he left his family behind in India and sends money on a regular basis.
About four months ago a Pakistani, Khalid Rashid, moved in with Mohammed for the holy month of Ramadan. Khalid had a temporary residence permit that allowed him to work in South Africa.
Moulana Mohammed Jeebhai: (through interpreter) 'I didn't know Khalid before this. I was staying alone and I thought it would be better if two people stayed in one house to share the expenses. And for that reason I gave him a place.'
But things suddenly changed on the evening of the 31st of October last year when several luxury vehicles swooped on Estcourt.
The cars were unmarked, yet the 20 or so passengers were heavily armed and wearing bullet-proof vests.
They were heading for the town's Indian neighbourhood, Forderville – their target this house where Mohammed and Khalid had just arrived from the evening prayers.
Mohammed: 'And as I set the table there was a knock on the door. When I opened the door there was a black guy with a firearm. I pushed the door close[d] and screamed for [my] landlord…'
Mohamed Bayat (landlord): 'When I heard Mohammed Jeebhai screaming he didn't sound normal. It sounded as if something was hysterical. When I came up I tried to open the door. Two guys were standing here with rifles; one guy pointed the rifle at me and said if you know what is good for you, stay in your house.'
Khalid's employer, Ashraf Manack, was an eyewitness.
Moulana Ashraf Manack (businessman): 'So as I got closer, one of them said, 'Don't come any closer'. So I shouted and said,'These are my friends… can you tell me what is happening?' And they said, 'Stop or we will take you with'.
Mohammed: 'They entered the house and they immediately encountered us and asked us to lie down on our stomachs. Then they went into the kitchen. Thereafter they capsized everything, even the milk and the sugar that were in the fridge. They emptied everything onto the floor… tied our hands with cable behind our backs.'
Ashraf: 'I could see Khalid was in the vehicle; it was [in] a white double cab. He was sitting in the front seat, and I could see them putting Mohammed Jeebhai into the other vehicle – the black BMW.'
John: 'From the house the two men were taken to what Mohammed recalls was an area of thick bush just outside Estcourt. There the armed men and officials regrouped before covering their captives' heads with hoods and taking them on a five hour journey in separate cars.'
Mohammed: 'They put me in the front seat. There were two in the back and I heard a bottle opening and I smelt alcohol. And my assumption was that they were drinking in the back because I didn't hear them after that. Even the driver never spoke to me; the only thing he was doing continually was threatening me and I don't understand what.'
When the group arrived at their destination the two men were detained in separate cells.
At first Mohammed had no idea where he was, but he could see Khalid's cell through a small window.
Mohammed: 'The only thing I could see was that every morning they would take him out of his cell and then at about 11 o'clock they would bring him back. And then at about 2 o'clock they would take him out again and bring him back in the evening.'
Mohammed, however, had enough problems of his own. He alleges that he was not given anything to eat for three days and neither was he allowed to make a phone call or see a lawyer.
Meanwhile, family and friends of the two men were frantically trying to track them down.
Estcourt police said they were in Pretoria at the Department of Home Affairs.
Ashraf: 'The brother of Mohammed Jeebhai contacted us and we gave him this news and he began looking throughout all the Home Affairs offices in Pretoria – and Johannesburg also – and the surrounding areas. The next day he gets back to us and he had spent the entire night searching and he hadn't found his brother.'
The police promised to look into the matter.
Ashraf: 'Later that afternoon they got back to us and they said, 'Listen, we do not know where these people are and we do not have any answers for you'.'
Faced with thousands of rands of damage to his property, the landlord also tried to get police reaction, but to no avail.
John: 'Now let me try and understand you correctly Mohammed… you are saying that you went to the police station to lay charges against the people who forced their way into your house. The police not only would not take down the charges, but they started interrogating you?'
A docket of malicious damage to property was eventually opened in Estcourt, but the case was never investigated.
Back in his cell, Mohammed was told that he was illegal….
John: 'It seems a case was quickly concocted against Mohammed Jeebhai. On day seven of his ordeal he was taken from his cell, hooded again and allegedly put into the back of a sealed vehicle. But he was able to get a glimpse of a parked police van.'
Mohammed: 'I saw written on the vehicle 'Cullinan Police' – that is when I realised that Cullinan is a police station.'
A few hours later Mohammed arrived at the Lindela repatriation camp for illegal immigrants near Krugersdorp. He'd not been given food or water during the journey and was dehydrated…
Mohammed: 'I was in such a bad situation that if water came to me five minutes later I think I would have passed out.'
Despite [him] having the necessary immigration papers, Mohammed was told he would be deported to India. But, he managed to get word to his brother in Johannesburg who in turn contacted lawyer, Zehir Omar.
Zehir Omar (lawyer): 'Our focus was primarily to prevent the deportation of both Mohammed Jeebahi and Khalib at that point
. So we approached the court very urgently. Our first application we brought we managed to secure an interdict to prevent the deportation of both these people, Khalib and Jeebhai.'
John: 'The only problem was that Khalid had disappeared; there was absolutely no sign of him. The Department of Home Affairs said it had deported him to Pakistan, but according to his family he never arrived there. So, where was Khalid Rashid taken to? The court demanded answers from the Minister.
Zehir: 'The High Court ordered our Minister of Home Affairs to disclose the whereabouts of Khalib on or before 6 December 2005.'
The case has been postponed to this coming Tuesday. Some time ago Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula's legal team filed a one paragraph notice stating that Khalid had been deported to Pakistan on the 6th of November last year – less than a week after the abduction.
But the department is yet to give details of the flight number, the airline and the name of the person who received Khalid in his home country.
That's why his friends and family fear that Khalid's so-called deportation was, in fact, an extradition and that he has ended up in a secret American prison camp.
Zehir: 'The manner in which the abduction took place, the person that was abducted, the non-compliance with the deportation act keep preceding this abduction and alleged deportation. The failure of the minister to disclose the whereabouts of Khalib fills many with deep suspicion whether he was in fact deported or not.'
Rudolph Jansen (Lawyers For Human Rights): 'If you looked at the paper trail, he was rushed through deportation very, very quickly and you have to be extremely naïve to believe that that was a bona fide deportation proceeding.'
John: 'And it may not be such a huge leap in logic. Some months ago when two South Africans were detained in Pakistan, we interviewed Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils and this is what he told us then.'
John: 'As far as combating the terrorist threat, how high is that on the NIA's agenda?'
Ronnie Kasrils (Minister of Intelligence): 'Extremely high… and in a country like South Africa which has a developed economy, which has open access to travellers, this is an issue which we regard as one of our key priorities. And on this basis we will co-operate with other services throughout the world because international terrorism is one of the biggest problems that the globe is being confronted with at present.'
John: 'How closely do you work with other intelligence agencies?'
Ronnie: 'It's absolutely a must. Whether one agrees one hundred percent with a particular country, we are all part and parcel of the frontline of a terrorist assault. Whatever the intelligence agency, we will seek to share information and find ways of dealing with what I am afraid is an absolute menace.'
So has this been the fate of Khalid Rashid?
Zehir: 'An interview with the head of the Department of Home Affairs in Natal revealed that the National Intelligence Agency was involved with this abduction. I have information that the NIA of our country used the Department of Home Affairs in the hope that this part of government could close this illegal operation with a semblance of legality.'
But none of the relevant departments were prepared to supply us with the facts… instead, they all simply passed the buck.
South African Police Service: 'After carefully going through this enquiry, we realised that really it should be Home Affairs that should be responding on this.'
John: 'We're busy following a story about the arrest of Mohammed Jebhai and Khalid Rashid in Estcourt last year…'
Department of Home Affairs: 'You'll have to speak to our head of communications.'
Department of Home Affairs: '….They said I shouldn't speak on these issues.'
John: 'Who authorised the raid in Estcourt last year? Why Khalid Rashid was arrested? … things like that.'
National Intelligence Agency: 'Well it sounds largely like a police matter so they would be the people to talk to.'
Both the Consulate of Pakistan and the American Embassy in Pretoria declined to comment.
So, with no news forthcoming, Carte Blanche set out to investigate….
In Estcourt, Mohammed is once again teaching at the local Muslim school.
Our first clue came from someone who'd witnessed the raid and made a note of the number plate of one of the cars at the scene. However, this information didn't help much because NPN 25465 was a false registration…..
A second clue came from Mohammed himself. Apart from identifying the Cullinan police vehicle, he'd seen the name of a shop on a food wrapping.
Mohamed: 'After three days a young white officer brought some food for me. On the food packet was the label of a Spar [store]… the local Cullinan Spar.'
John: 'Well, sure enough, there is a Spar in Cullinan. In fact, it's only about 150 metres away from the police station. I've just bought some fruit there and it says quite clearly on the label 'Cullinan Spar'.'
Cullinan is about 40 kilometres east of Pretoria and 400 kilometres from Estcourt. The local police station's cell register confirmed that Khalid Mehmood Rashid and Mohammed Jeebhai were indeed booked in on the 1st of November at 3:30 in the morning.
It stated that the two were illegal immigrants….
But more came to light at Cullinan police….
John: 'We saw in the station's incident book that Home Affairs officials and a police superintendent had signed Khalid in and out of the cells on no less than nine separate occasions. Strangely there's no mention of Mohammed.'
The last two entries both referred to Khalid's release for deportation; first on the 6th and surprisingly again on the 7th of November. It further stated that his personal belongings, including an amount of more than ten thousand rand, were handed back to him on departure. After that Khalid Rashid disappeared into thin air.
Jody Kollapen (Human Rights Commission): 'Well, if Mr Rashid was removed from South Africa, then we should be entitled to know when he was removed, how he was removed, who took the responsibility for his removal and who, on the other side, received him. Our courts have consistently said that it is important that when the State acts, it acts within full compliance with legality.'
Rudolph Jansen: 'It has all those typical trademarks, not only of American abductions, but abductions under any oppressive government – whether it was under erstwhile South Africa or in dictatorships in South America way back when many of them have those same trademarks.'
John: 'Our investigation has uncovered some information which remains unconfirmed. For example, it was claimed that Khalid was flown out of the Waterkloof air force base by an aircraft linked to a foreign intelligence agency. We've also heard that the aircraft was struck by lightning and was grounded for several days. And we've confirmed with SA Weather Service that there was in fact an electrical storm over the area at that time.'
We've also learnt that the raid in Estcourt – and what followed thereafter – was executed by an elite anti-terror unit that functions covertly within the crime intelligence component of the SAPS, and that they had been specially trained by the Americans.
Jody: 'The concern is that any person entering South Africa – whether you come as a refugee, an asylum seeker or an illegal immigrant, you are possessed with certain r
ights. The quality of your rights may differ and, equally, the State has certain responsibilities.'
Rudolph: 'Every single person in the country has the right to know, very quickly, whether a family member or loved one is kept by the state, or to have access to that person. That is in legal terms called habeas corpus proceedings. And in a day and age like ours, with paper trails and good communications, one should not be forced to bring a High Court application to find out simple information like that.'
John: 'Our journey has taken us from Johannesburg to Estcourt; to Pretoria and Cullinan. We've made dozens of phone calls and sent just as many e-mails, and government departments have done their best to lead us off the trail. But this is a story without a conclusion. The question still remains… Where is Khalid Rashid?'