Terror claims by an East African businessman living in South Africa are said to be behind the security alert issued by the United States Embassy in Pretoria over the weekend. A source with access to South African intelligence said, however, that the businessman was believed by South Africa to be a “discredited” informer who was only after the money he’d be paid for the information.
South African authorities appear to be taking the threat less seriously than the US government, as the State Security Minister David Mahlobo delayed his response to the American alert by more than a day – and then downplayed it by saying there was no need to panic. Mahlobo on Monday said that SA security services “have liaised with the Americans on the concerns they have and these engagements will continue as part of the ongoing work”.
He added: “It is the responsibility of the South African security forces to ensure that all people within our territory are and feel safe.
“We remain a strong and stable democratic country and there is no immediate danger posed by the alert.”
The US said in its alert that it had received information that radical Islamic terrorist groups were planning to attack “places where US citizens congregate in South Africa, such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town” ahead of Ramadan, which starts on Tuesday.
Both the United Kingdom and Australia updated their travel advisories to citizens on Monday, but they did not caution against travel to South Africa. It is believed that they acted as a result of the US alert and did not get additional information.
Africa Director for the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) Jasmine Opperman said the alerts were clearly from the same source.
“What is noteworthy is the alerts are directed to their citizens, which clearly indicates that they are importing their threats of direct attacks onto South African soil.”
Asked what purpose the terror alert and advisories serve, she said: “It is a play-it-safe tactic so when an attack should happen, they can claim to have done early warning to their citizens.
“These statements are more reflective of our counter-terrorism approach and ability to protect their citizens.”
‘No indication of planned attacks’
Opperman, however, said that there “is simply no indication of Islamic State cell structure presence or planned attacks” in South Africa, and that while South Africa should not take the terror alert lightly, it should not “allow such statements to dictate its counter-terror strategy”.
She said more practical steps should be taken to upgrade security at tourist resorts and malls, without having to wait for foreign embassies to make statements.
The US government distinguishes, on its information websites, between issuing a travel warning (when there are frequent terrorist attacks or instability in a country, for instance Somalia) and travel alerts (for short-term events in a country, such as elections, an outbreak of bird flu, or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks, for instance in Europe at the moment).
The security message that it issued on Saturday was neither of these, but rather a security message from the embassy, which contains information about “personal security threats of a general or systemic nature, such as crime trends, demonstrations, peaceful actions intended to disrupt normal activity, or localised events not likely to affect large numbers of US citizens”.
US Embassy spokesperson Cynthia Harvey told News24 on Tuesday that the embassy “cannot comment on intelligence matters”. She gave reassurances, however, that “we are working closely with local authorities”.
State Security spokesperson Brian Dube said: “At this stage, we are not in a position to reveal the intelligence being worked on.”[Source: News24]