While South Africa registers low on the global risk radar of potential terrorist attacks, of concern is that the country remains a relatively easy target for radical groups to flourish in, according to managing editor of the African Defence Review, John Stupart. A series of high profile terrorist attacks in recent weeks targeting Paris, Beirut and Mali, amongst others, has put many countries on high alert, amid an apparent romped up terror campaign by militant groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram.
While European countries like France and Belgium have heightened security and embarked on a series of counter-terrorism raids, and the U.S. issuing a worldwide travel alert, South Africa has remained somewhat nonchalant about the probability of being targeted.
Stupart highlighted that the country had a reputation for being a “transit point” for terrorists, at points housing suspects including the ‘White Widow’ Samantha Lewthwaite, an alleged perpetrator of the 2013 Kenyan Mall attack. He also suggested that recently deceased ISIS radical, Jihadi John had attempted to acquire a South African passport.
“Our passport is notoriously weak in terms of acquiring a false or forged one, and I think the weakness in that is a major concern, not so much for individual South Africans but rather global terrorism in general,” he said, further explaining that the access to a South African passport would open up routes to many African and Middle Eastern countries more at risk of attack.
More concerning is that South Africa has been deemed “woefully unprepared” in terms of its counter-terrorism strategy, with the majority of the country’s safety stemming from its non-involvement in the global war on terror. Stupart suspected this could soon change, with the country seeking to become more involved in crisis and conflict-hit areas across the African continent.
“We are trying to get more involved through the African Union (AU) via various military intervention frameworks. That is certainly going to create enemies in Africa. From a terrorism perspective, that entirely depends on where we are involved.
Oncee you start (operating) in those terrorist groups’ regions, like Al Shabab or Boko Haram, you start to put yourself on the radar. I don’t think South Africa as a security institution is particularly prepared for that,” he suggested.
A continent-wide collaboration called the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC) has been proposed by South Africa as a means of ensuring rapid deployment of assistance to the AU in conflict areas.
Stupart also believed the country could and would only learn to develop a proper and resilient counter-terrorism strategy if the country became victim to a major attack.
“In South Africa there has been very little inward retrospective on how do we prevent a domestic terror attack.
“We need some top down understanding of the threats that might face this country and how to deal with them. That goes everything from a domestic attack, domestic radicalisation and right through to preventing South Africa being a transit hub for global terrorists,” he stated. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)