The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the State Security department have both sought to play down speculation that more than 100 South African nationals are currently fighting in Syria as recruits for the radical Islamic State (IS) group. The allegations, emanating from reports in the Sunday Independent over the weekend, further quote Iraqi ambassador, Dr Hishaam Al Alawi, as saying that three locals have already been killed whilst fighting in the region.
However doubt has been cast over the validity of the allegations, after both governmental departments insisted they had no knowledge of South African’s currently fighting for IS, or of any recruitment operations taking place in the country.
And the story was further rubbished by Naeem Jeenah, director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, who described the claims as pure “sensationalism”. He was especially critical of the lack of evidence provided to substantiate the papers two main claims.
The Sunday Independent alleges that about 140 South Africans are currently in IS, although no real reference was provided as to where those statistics came from. The paper also claimed that three South African nationals were killed whilst fighting as a member of the radical group.
“In that case, the only real reference point is the Iraqi ambassador. The Syrian ambassador, DIRCO, and the State Security department, all three of them have no knowledge of these claims,” he explained.
The paper further claims that recruitments are currently taking place in the currently under the guise of humanitarian groups, without providing any details on specific organizations. Such allegations have been seen as potentially contributing towards an already rampant sense of Islamaphobia. However, Jeenah said that casting suspicion in this manner would potentially several other non-Muslim organizations, currently conducting aid work in the region.
“You have for example Médecins Sans Frontières, which is a global organization but there are South Africans involved in its Syria project,” he noted.
“This casting of suspicion on anyone who wants to do volunteer work is a huge problem. This is in terms of the individuals who want to offer their services, as well as the organizations and the difficulty in which they may have to operate,” he said.
Jeenah said the allegations may prove to be damaging, particularly in the minds of ordinary South Africans who have little knowledge on the ISIS issue. He added that it would likely fuel belief that large portions of the South African Muslim population were in support of the groups actions.
“That for the Muslim community in South Africa can be quite serious, firstly in terms of how they are perceived by fellow South Africans. Secondly, how they may be perceived by our security agencies, and lastly how they might be perceived by security agencies outside the country,” he noted. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)