A Sunday Independent report has stoked much debate in recent days, after suggestions that 140 South Africans are currently fighting as part of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, and that the group is actively recruiting new fighters in the country. Sunday’s article further alleges that three South African nationals have thus far died whilst fighting for IS.
Despite refutations by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the Iraqi ambassador to South Africa, Dr Hisham al-Alawi maintains these reports are true. During a previous interview on VOC in August, he alluded to the deaths of the three South African, claiming there was credible information to substantiate the reports. On Monday, he revealed that the three deceased included two Gauteng men in their twenties, as well as a middle aged man from Cape Town. He noted that the two former had died whilst fighting alongside IS troops, whilst the latter perished during an attack on an IS convoy.
As far as the 140 figure was concerned, he stressed that he did not have any reliable information to confirm whether the number was accurate or not.
“But given the experience from other countries, as well as a recent UN report that confirms that as many as 15 000 foreign fighters have been recruited by ISIS and other militant groups, I think we should certainly look at this situation in a comprehensive way,” he said.
Although reluctant to divulge the names of the deceased, he noted that all relevant details on the individuals in question have been shared to officials in DIRCO. This comes despite strong denials from the department that South Africans were in anyway affiliated with militant activities in the Middle East.
“I have provided the available information in writing to our colleagues at DIRCO,” he stated.
“I have also had a couple of meetings with our colleagues in the Middle East, and they have promised they will liaise with the relevant authorities. Since then I haven’t received any feedback from them, but I’m certain they will look into the situation.”
Al-Alawi has spent the duration of the past three years situated in Pretoria. During this time, he suggested he had come across several signs of individuals and groups, all of whom shared similar views to that of groups such as IS.
Amongst the allegations listed in the Sunday Independent report are that such groups are also recruiting in South Africa, whilst purporting to operate under the guise of humanitarian organizations. Al-Alawi seemed to confirm these allegations.
“At times they use their humanitarian crowd. They invite people to donate or to go and support the work they are claiming to do, when it comes to supporting refugees and orphans in Syria,” he asserted
A UN report released earlier this year, has estimated that at least 15 000 foreign fighters, hailing from over 80 countries, have flocked to Syria and Iraq in support of radical groups like IS. These individuals are reported to be coming from areas across the Middle East, North Africa, as well as several Western and European nations. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)