SA needs to wake up to fight against Islamic State


With signs of a mounting Islamic State (IS) presence in the region, South Africa needs to show urgent political leadership in fighting terrorism, say security analysts. SA’s desire to be friends with everyone and its continuing to deny the country’s terrorism problem are dangerous, say analysts.

They are also highly concerned about allegations of political interference in the dropping of cases against terrorist suspects and that SA may have paid groups not to attack the country during the 2010 World Cup.

A number of security analysts who track terrorist groups on the continent spoke last night on a webinar organised by SA Jewish Report, the weekly newspaper which serves the local Jewish community. The full webinar can be seen here:

The call for greater backbone from SA’s political leadership in fighting terrorism came just days after an Islamic State-supporting insurgent group seized control of the port of Mocimboa da Praia in the northern Mozabique province of Cabo Delgado. Last month an ISIS flag, explosives, and weapons were found during a police raid on a house in Kliprivier, south of Johannesburg. Some of the suspects are still at large, but reports suggest that they may be connected to the attacks on a Verulam mosque two years ago, and the New Year’s Eve shooting in Melville and Mary Fitzgerald Square in Johannesburg.

It is the attack on Mocimboa da Praia that has raised considerable alarm, as if ISIS can hold the port for an extended time, the organisation could bring in large amounts of supplies and establish a base to expand the area they hold. As offshore oil rigs are supplied through this port, its loss is a serious defeat for the Mozambican security forces and a sign that Islamic State is having some success in its aim of expanding its global reach.

Last month Islamic State threatened to open a front in SA if Pretoria aids Mozambique in the fight against Ansar al-Sunna, the main insurgent force in Cabo Delgado province.

Willem Els, an analyst with the Institute of Security Studies and a former senior South African Police Service officer who has experience in the Explosives Branch and Crime Intelligence, said SA should help Mozambique through the Southern African Development Community, SADC. The SADC defence pact could be invoked to assist Mozambique and plans for a regional standby force used to help to counter the insurgency.

Els said considerable damage had been done during the years of state capture as a result of orders “from the top” not to prosecute or investigate some terror related cases. The recent appointment of Robert McBride as head of the Foreign Branch of SA’s State Security Agency and the filling of a number of vacant posts gave hope for a turnaround, Els said. He said it was difficult to establish the extent to which ISIS had established training camps in SA as the investigations were halted due to political interference.

Jasmine Opperman, the Africa Analyst at The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, and a former intelligence officer, said it was crucial that SA links with other intelligence agencies be restored. Key in the fight against terrorism the monitoring of online Jihadist chat rooms to find out who is chatting to whom and identify those who are inspiring violence, she said.

She said ISIS is highly adept at identifying areas of the world where there is dissatisfaction with the government, such as in Cabo Delgado, which had been neglected for years. In SA, Islamic State supporters are more likely to engage in financial and other crimes, including kidnapping, to support their operations than launch attacks.

Jevon Greenblatt, the Director of Operations of the Community Security Organisation, which protects Jewish linked organisations, says SA “is in a lot of danger” from attack. He says the attacks on New Year’s Eve might have been “a dry run to test the system.”

Greenblatt said there are “pockets of excellence” in SA’s intelligence community who are putting their lives at risk and doing an exceptional job.