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South Africa Becoming Terrorist Haven – Professor Hussein Solomon

May 15, 2013


South Africa Becoming Terrorist Haven

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 11 (May 2013)

This has not been a good week for the South African intelligence community. Two back to back media reports raise more questions regarding the capacity of South Africa’s intelligence community and the will of their political mandarins to robustly respond to the scourge of international terrorism.

Following a year-long investigation, the Daily Maverick’s De Wet Potgieter exposed the existence of secret Islamist military training camps in South Africa – one at Vlakplaas, outside Pretoria and the other in the mountains of the Klein Karoo[i]. Whilst the existence of militant Islamist training camps in South Africa is not a new phenomenon – going back to at least the 1990s – the information on the South African government’s own responses makes for fascinating reading.

According to Potgieter, following the 9/11 terror attacks in Washington and New York, the South African police launched an operation to investigate militant Islamist activities in South Africa named Operation Kanu. However in 2010 intelligence personnel were recalled from the operational sites and laptops, cameras and situation reports were all taken away from these operatives. All surveillance was ceased on the orders, it would seem, from their political masters. Even more puzzling was the fact that despite incriminating evidence found by these operatives, no arrests followed Operation Kanu.

This raises several more questions. Why would such an operation lasting several years and with the expenditure of so many resources be suddenly called off? Who had the authority to terminate such an operation which proved to be so promising given the incriminating evidence and subversive activities that De Wet Potgieter alludes to? Why would these training camps not be regarded as a threat to South Africa’s own national security, not to mention the country’s own international legal obligations to eradicate terrorism? Was there any significance that all surveillance ended and intelligence operatives called off in 2010 – the year that South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup and where there was credible evidence of a terrorist threat posed to this World Cup?

These questions, it would seem, is also being asked by London and Washington whose intelligence services are frustrated with the inaction on the part of the South African government to effectively respond to the terror threat emanating from within its borders.

The following day (14 May 2013), a report appeared in the Daily Mail and focused on British-born Samantha Lewthwaite who was married to the London 7 July 2005 Kings Cross bomber, Germaine Lindsay[ii]. British intelligence sources believe her to be an integral member of both Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda. With her growing seniority in jihadi circles her role has expanded from moving funds raised in the United Kingdom to terror cells in Somalia to commanding her own all-female terror squad. She is also alleged to be associated with Habib Ghani, an experienced Al Qaeda bomb maker who was trained in Pakistan.

So what is the significance of Samatha Lewthwaite for South Africa? Well, she just happened to spend two years in South Africa under an assumed name building up a terror network that spans the United Kingdom, South Africa and Pakistan.

The first media report by De Wet Potgieter was fundamentally a story of a lack of political will on the part of the political mandarins in this country to decisively deal with the terror threat posed. The second story was fundamentally about the incapacity (dare I say incompetence?) on the part of the South African intelligence community to detect the presence of Samantha Lewthwaite in the country for two solid years. Neither was she the first to use South Africa not only as a safe house, but also to build terror networks in this country.

These twin issues of a dearth of political will and incapacity will need to be fixed as a matter of urgency if we are to ensure the security of all South African citizens and for South Africa to play its part in eradicating the scourge of international terrorism.

[i] De Wet Pogieter, “Al Qaeda: Alive and well in South Africa,” The Daily Maverick. 13 May 2013. Internet: Date Accessed: 14 May 2013.

[ii] “Now White Widow is connected to British-born Al Qaeda bomb maker: Fugitive wife of 7/7 terrorist was key link, The Daily Mail, 14May 2013. Internet: http::// Date Accessed: 15 May 2013.

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