Zimbabwean authorities say it appears the final destination of the 64 men aboard a U.S. registered plane seized Sunday in Harare was not Zimbabwe. Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi also announced the suspected mercenaries were mainly Angolans, South Africans and Namibians.
Home Affairs Minister Mohadi says the occupants of the plane have mentioned various destinations, including Bujumbura in Burundi or Mbuji Mayi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He says the men are linked to a South African mercenary company. Mr. Mohadi adds the plane, which he says was also carrying military equipment, was met by an "advance party" of three, led by a man he alleged to be a former member of the British Special Air Services, Simon Mann. The three are said to have entered Zimbabwe on the 5th of this month. All of the men have been detained by authorities in Zimbabwe.
The plane, which reportedly took off from South Africa, is registered to a U.S. company, Dodson Aviation based in Kansas. But a Dodson spokesman says it sold the aircraft to a South African firm, last week. The operator of the plane, British based Logo Logistics, says the men were headed for the Democratic Republic of Congo to work as security guards at mines.
The U.S. State Department says it has no indication that the plane has any connection to the U.S. government.
The Home Affairs minister says that before the plane landed at Harare International Airport, the captain had advised Harare Air Traffic control that the plane was empty except for a crew of three and four loaders. On landing the pilot allegedly kept only the cockpit lights on. Further inspection, the minister says, revealed that contrary to the pilot's claim that there were only seven people on board the aircraft, there were actually 64 men. He says 23 are Angolans, 20 are South African, 18 Namibian, one is a Zimbabwean who holds a South African passport and two are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On Monday, state television in Zimbabwe showed equipment it said was found aboard the aircraft - including satellite telephones, compasses, radios, military knives and boots, bolt cutters and sleeping bags. No firearms were shown. State television says that members of the advance party, who described themselves as 'international technicians' based in the British Virgin Islands, apparently tried to buy weapons in Zimbabwe saying they wanted to sponsor a Katangese rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The broadcaster says they later said they required the weapons to guard mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.