A South African is believed to have been among Islamic State (ISIS) fighters killed last week during the recapture of the ancient city of Palymyra by Syrian forces‚ according to reports.
Bilal Cajee‚ 38‚ from Vereeniging‚ who reportedly left South Africa in September to join ISIS‚ is believed to have died in the fighting.
According to a report in the Sunday Tribune‚ he is the fourth South African believed to have been killed fighting for ISIS. His brother Ahmed was reportedly also killed in Syria in 2014.
It is believed there are several South Africans fighting for IS and Cajee is the fourth local to be killed.
Last week Syrian forces made headlines around the world when they recaptured Palmyra, a World Heritage Site. The ancient city was an important trade route linking several Eastern civilisations (Persia, India and China) with the Roman Empire.
In modern times it was part of Syria but fell to IS in May last year, which by then had control over large parts of Syria and Iraq. IS also has operations in Libya, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.
In September, Russia intervened, changing the fortunes of the Syrian army.
Last week, Syrian soldiers, supported by Russian air power, managed to retake the city of Tadmur and the ancient site of Palmyra.
According to Syrian media reports, about 450 IS fighters were killed in the battle. Cajee is thought to have been one of them.
His friend, who asked not to be named, said Cajee resigned from his job last year and told friends and family he was taking on a new job in Qatar in the United Arab Emirates. He left the country with his wife, Saffiya.
“We learnt of his death last Friday when his family sent messages to those who knew him via WhatsApp. His wife had told his parents.”
“It is tragic because his parents have now lost two of their sons. His wife is safe and we don’t know if she will come back,” said the friend.
Joburg lawyer Yousha Tayob confirmed that he had heard about the death of Cajee.
He acted for a group of 11 people from Roshnee who returned from Syria in September. They were held in Turkey after they allegedly travelled to Syria for aid work.
Iraq’s former ambassador to South Africa, Dr Hisham Al-Alawi, who is now a diplomat in Turkey, said he was not surprised to hear of Cajee’s death.
“Before I went to Turkey in December, I had credible information regarding more than 100 people who had left South Africa to join IS.
“This death is an indication that recruitment for IS is a reality and shouldn’t be ignored. If Cajee left South Africa in September, it was not all that long ago. Somebody had to recruit him.
Cajee’s family did not want to speak to the Sunday Tribune.
On social media the following message was shared: “Bilal Cajee has been made a martyr in the holy land of Sham. May God grant him the highest stages in heaven and grant his family patience and understanding”.
The Department of International Relations said they were unaware of Cajee’s death.
“The family has to tell us what assistance they require. Only then can we intervene,” said spokesman Nelson Kgwete.
The Jamiatul Ulama of South Africa could not be reached for comment.
However, in previous statements jointly issued by the United Ulama Council of SA , Islamic organisations in SA said: “IS stands condemned as a misguided political enigma which has distorted the teachings of Islam.
“Its duplicity is only outmatched by its savagery and barbarity. It has divided and weakened the Muslim world, legitimised murder in the name of Islam, and shifted focus from the actual hot spots around the globe.
“Joining or supporting this genocidal cult because it projects itself to be the most obvious counterpart to the West is misplaced and will prove to be a fatal attraction.”