US names and “designates” ISIS cell in South Africa

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The United States (US) Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) “designated” four members of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cell operating in South Africa.

A statement has it the four provided technical, financial or material support to the terrorist group. The US Treasury further designated eight companies owned, controlled or directed by the individuals in this ISIS cell.

The latest involvement of ISIS in South Africa comes on the heels of a terrorism alert issued by the US Embassy in Pretoria warning of a potential terror attack in the greater area of Sandton, the northern component of the Johannesburg metro, on 29 October. Nothing untoward happened with a Gay Pride march going ahead as planned.

The Treasury statement quotes Brian Nelson, its Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, as saying: “Treasury is targeting key individuals in ISIS’s network in South Africa, as well as their business assets, who have played pivotal roles in enabling terrorism and other criminal activities in the region. The US, as part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, will continue to partner with South Africa to deny ISIS the ability to exploit the country’s economy to raise and move funds to support the growth of ISIS affiliates and networks”.

The South African-based ISIS members are associates of Treasury-designated ISIS cell leader Farhad Hoomer, “who continues to pursue ISIS objectives in southern Africa and expresses will and intent to attack the interests of the US and its allies”.

Brothers Nufael Akbar and Yunus Mohamad Akbar are senior members of a Durban, South Africa-based ISIS cell led by Hoomer. Nufael Akbar collaborated with and was directed by Hoomer. He is, according to the statement “a central commanding figure in the Durban-based ISIS cell”. Brother Yunus functions as cell enforcer and logistics co-ordinator.

The OFAC action, enforced by executive order, targets two other Hoomer associates, Mohamad Akbar and Umar Akbar. They were arrested in 2018 by South African authorities along with Hoomer for involvement in a plan to deploy improvised incendiary devices near a mosque and commercial retail buildings in KwaZulu-Natal.

The four are designated pursuant to Executive Order 13224 as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, ISIS, the US Treasury said.

OFAC designated four south Africa-based companies in connection with Nufael Akbar and Yunus Mohamad Akbar as well as another four companies owned, controlled or directed by Hoomer. The companies are MA Gold Traders, Bailey Holdings, Flexoseal Waterproofing Solutions, HJ Bannister Construction, Sultans Construction, Ashiq Jewellers, Ineos Trading and Shaahista Shoes.

The US Treasury “designation” means all property and interests in property of those designated in the US must be blocked and reported to OFAC.

The US Treasury claimed Hoomer raised money for his ISIS cell through kidnapping and extortion and  had been in contact with ISIS members in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as across South Africa.

Hoomer was sanctioned by the US in March and among those arrested in 2018 over the Durban mosque plot, although the case was struck off in 2020 amid delays from prosecutors.