The South African government, through its State Security Minister, David Mahlobo, has downplayed the warnings of a possible terrorist attack in the country. This ‘assurance of no impending danger’ is coming at a time when terrorism across the globe, especially in Africa, remains a major concern.
Three days ago, the United States of America, United Kingdom and Australia issued separate security warnings to their citizens residing or planning to travel to South Africa to be vigilant. The warnings were necessitated as a result of information reaching them stating that terrorist groups are planning to attack certain areas in South Africa.
“The U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa informs U.S. citizens that the U.S. Government has received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where U.S. citizens congregate in South Africa, such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town,” wrote the US Embassy.
“There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including places visited by foreigners such as shopping areas in Johannesburg and Cape Town. There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attacks, globally, against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time,” the UK Embassy wrote.
Reacting to the warnings, South Africa’s Security Minister, David Mahlobo, said “South Africa remains a strong and stable democratic country and there is no immediate danger posed by the alert.” He further remarked that the country’s security services will continue to work on matters of violent extremism and terrorism amongst others and ensure the safety of all citizens and residents.
Taking a careful and critical look at the warnings, they may have only been triggered by the recent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s public call for its adherents to carry out terrorist attacks, globally, during the upcoming month of Ramadan. Though the US issued a similar warning last year without any immediate incident or attack, however, for South Africans, there is more to why they should be worried and take these terrorist attack warnings seriously.
South Africans among recent ISIL recruits
Last year, an investigation carried out by Al Jazeera revealed that no fewer than 23 South African citizens, including children, have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL). Since the report was published, the South African government has neither denied nor confirmed it. In April of the same year, a Statement from the Ministry of State Security confirmed a 15-year old girl who may have been headed to ISIL was discovered on a Johannesburg bound flight. Definitely, this calls for concern. There is huge possibility of these ISIL-recruited nationals representing the ‘interest’ of their country when places billed for attacks are targeted by the group.
TRAC’s Confirmation of terrorist group supporters in South Africa
Another reason to take terrorist attack warnings seriously is the confirmation of the presence of terrorist group supporters in South Africa. The Director of African Operations at Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), Jasmine Opperman, wrote on theDaily Maverick on Monday, that TRAC has verified reports of al-Shabaab supporters in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Roshnee, a suburb of Vereeniging; sympathisers of the al-Qaeda-aligned Jahbaht al-Nusra in Port Elizabeth; and continuous recruitment efforts by the Islamic State in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Newcastle and Port Elizabeth. One of the major strategies used by ISIL is to get sympathisers and supporters willing to propagate its cause. If this report is not taken seriously by the South African government, the country may be sitting on a keg of gun powder.
Track records of warning countries
There is no reason to doubt the fact that the United States and United Kingdom operate the most efficient and reliable intelligence gathering circuits in the world. In the past, their warnings have saved countless lives by thwarting planned attacks on civilians. Most recently, 15 terror attacks were reportedly foiled before the EURO 2016 tournament, on the heels of a ‘terrorism risk’ warning issued by the US specifically naming the football tournament as a target. Two days before the March 13 suicide bombing in Turkey, the US embassy issued a warning about a ‘potential terrorist plot to attack Turkish government buildings and housing located in the Bahçelievler area of Ankara.’ The bombing eventually occurred near Guven Park and Kizilay Square in Ankara, several kilometres from Bahçelievler. Another popular warning issued by these countries was to Nigeria in 2012. A few days to the Easter celebration, the US and UK embassies said there is a high threat of terrorist attack in some Nigerian states including Kaduna. During that Easter, at least 38 persons died in two separate bomb blasts in Kaduna and Jos. Indeed, with the accuracies tied to several previous warnings by these countries, there is an urgent need for South Africa to take the warnings issued by the US, UK and Australia very seriously and implement the necessary measures to avoid a possible attack.
Source – venturesafrica