Convictions show South Africa’s ‘strong stance’ on international terrorism

Out-Law News | 14 Feb 2022 | 2:11 pm | 2 min. read

The convictions of two South African brothers who attempted to join Islamic State show the country has taken a “strong stance” in fighting international terrorism, a legal expert has said.

Edward James, corporate crime expert at Pinsent Masons, said the jail sentences for Brandon-Lee Thulsie (28) and his twin brother Tony-Lee were significant because they were “the first involving international terrorism to be secured under relatively obscure legislation called the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities (POCDATARA).”

“Previous convictions under POCDATARA, also known as the Terrorism Act, have largely centred on South African right-wing extremists. Now, the sentencing of the Thulsies shows that the South African Government has taken a strong stance not only against domestic terrorism, but also against international terrorism too,” James added.

The Thulsie brothers were initially arrested in July 2016 and charged with terror-related offences after attempting to travel to Syria twice in 2015 to join Islamic State. During the criminal proceedings against them, which were beset with almost six years of delays, the pair entered into a plea and sentencing agreement with prosecutors.

Both pleaded guilty to conspiring to join Islamic State, and to downloading the group’s online literature - including manuals on making and acquiring explosives. Separately, Tony-Lee pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack in South Africa after requesting instructions from Islamic State members on how to make explosive devices. Prosecutors said he had planned to target American, British, Russian or French diplomats at one of their embassies in Pretoria, and had vowed to blow himself up in the attack.

Sentencing Tony-Lee and Brandon-Lee to 11 and eight years in prison respectively, the judge said their guilty pleas demonstrated a degree of remorse for their actions, adding that their relatively young ages at the time of the offences were a mitigating factor. The brothers’ time spent in custody awaiting trial was included in their sentences, meaning Tony-Lee will serve another five years behind bars, while Brandon-Lee will serve another two.

Evaendren Naidoo, of Pinsent Masons, said: “Due to the nature of the case and the charges, it is unlikely that the public will be granted access to the full plea deal. Nevertheless, the Thulsie brothers’ convictions sent out a strong message to the public and should serve as a firm reminder to individuals and organizations not to breach any section of the Terrorism Act.”

James added: “There has been much intrigue surrounding the case since the brothers were arrested in 2016. In light of the plea deal reached, we will not see a criminal trial unfold and therefore not have the benefit of fully understanding the evidence that the state would have presented against the brothers. The criminal trial would have given us more insight into the practical application of the Terrorism Act to the facts of what transpired in the lives of the brothers.”

“A potentially wider issue facing South Africa is the extent to which terrorism is financed from our shores. Whilst the Financial Intelligence Centre Act and other legislation contain strong anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing rules, and South Africa’s financial regulator is world-class, there is a notable gap in enforcement against individuals and organisations that are actively involved in financing terrorism,” James said.

“More can, and should, be done to close that gap and ensure that South Africa is not a source of funds for international terror groups. While the government has a role to play in enforcement, so too do private companies. Historically, banks and other regulated institutions have focused on controls to manage money laundering and terrorism financing risks. Companies that are not regulated have placed less focus on these controls, and should consider enhancing their compliance due diligence processes to better understand the flows of funds that they are involved in and the counter-parties that they do business with,” he added.

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