South Africa and terrorism: The links are real

South Africa has a history of very violent criminals who have easy access to weapons and to a lesser degree, explosives. So when the violence turns from crime to terrorism it has been, is, and will for a long time be simple for the aggressors to obtain anything they need. Crime and corruption are key tools that extremists look to take advantage of.

The last real ‘terror’ bombings that occurred in SA were done by the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD), a vigilante group in Cape Town formed in the early 1990s buy the Pan African Congress (PAC) and local community leaders.

From 1996 PAGAD was influenced by more highly politicised and experienced people within it who associated with radical Islamic groups, mainly Qibla, a militant Shi’a and Sunni political organisation (an offshoot of Iranian Fundamentalism which avows a political jihad – US State Dept. Annual Report on Religious Freedom, 2004), that was previously seeking to remove apartheid along with all of the other organisations which were dedicated to the fight against apartheid. The PAC had similar objectives but were active in violent terrorism before the 1994 democratic elections. But even after democracy arrived and apartheid had ended the violence continued. In an address to Parliament in September 2000, the then Minister of Justice, Penuell Maduna, expressed his belief that Qibla was at the core of the violence, saying: “Qibla is at the core of the G-Force and the G-Force is at the core of PAGAD.”

This caused changes in leadership and formed tighter organisational structures. This succeeded in transforming PAGAD from a relatively non-religious popular mass movement into a smaller radical isolated group.

The bombings started in 1998, and peaked with nine bombings in 2000. Targets included South African authorities, moderate Muslims, synagogues, gay nightclubs, tourist attractions, and Western-associated restaurants. The most prominent attack during this time was the bombing on 25 August 1998 of the Cape Town Planet Hollywood.

The South African police, and Dept. of Justice came to regard PAGAD as part of the Cape crime problem and they were eventually designated a terrorist organization by the South African government and firm action by a special task group ended the organisations existence early in the new millennium.

When the dust cleared from the 11 September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the US there was no noticeable increase in security or intelligence operations in SA. But links continue between South Africa and international terrorism. In June 2017 the US embassy alerted its citizens in SA to possible terror attacks, and the UK and Australia also increased their travel warnings.

Official sources say off the record that there is evidence that SA has been used as a transit point for terrorists, as a place of refuge and as a base for planning and training.

Some examples include:

Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian trained by al-Qaeda, was arrested in Cape Town in 1999 for his role in the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 after a year in hiding here in plain sight, using forged identification.

The ‘White Widow’, Samantha Lewthwaite. was the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the terrorists responsible for the 7 July 2005 bombings in London. Her fingerprints and other identifiers were on record and she was wanted by the Kenyan authorities and Interpol for links to al-Qaeda and involvement in other attacks. But between 2008 and 2010, she lived and worked freely in SA and travelled overseas on a false South African passport.

Blank, genuine SA passports have been found in many countries – a boxful in the UK. In May 2017, fifteen unused South African passports, some containing pictures of South Africans on an international terrorist watch list, were found in Tanzania on an al-Shabab courier. A Hawks (SA’s FBI)’ source said, “All of the recovered passports are legitimate. They contain the images of several South Africans on international terror watch lists. Among the photographs is one of a woman who might very well be Lewthwaite”.

In 2015 it was reported that Lewthwaite had been killed in the Ukraine, but the source said the latest arrest suggests that she is still alive. He said the courier had proven links to Lewthwaite. He used the same networks that she did while in SA to obtain passports. “He is also believed to be linked to an al-Qaeda operative killed in Mali early last year. That man was also found with South African passports.”

Henry Okah, leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, lived in SA from 2003 to 2010 when he was arrested in Johannesburg and convicted on 13 charges of terrorism.

In 2011, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, leader of al-Qaeda’s East African branch was killed in Somalia whilst carrying a South African passport.

Applicants for a South African passport must submit biometric data, including fingerprints, which further indicates that those persons may have at least passed through SA.

There are many other reports of al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab members travelling through SA and these cases raise serious concerns about the country being used as a staging point and safe haven for extremists to hide out or plan operations.

At present the terror related activities are either at a low or are not being reported but we have a new generation of disaffected youngsters and our former revolutionary allies are dead or out of power. No one can be sure that our wealth, freedom, capitalism and tolerance are not going to change SA from neutral to a target.

A SATAC Open Source Article By Andy Grudko

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SATAC Research & Analytics Team

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