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South Africa Tightening Security Measures - 2001-10-23

South Africa is tightening its internal security procedures following the terrorist attacks on the United States. It is also sharing intelligence on its domestic terrorists with the U.S. government.

International travelers may be among the first to notice South Africa's new security measures. At the country's main airports, all passengers going abroad are searched for potential weapons, including knitting needles, scissors, plastic knives, mace, and bats. Passengers connecting to other flights in the United States must carry a valid U.S. visa, even if they are not going to visit the United States, but are continuing on to other destinations. Domestic travelers in South Africa must carry identification.

K.C. Marobela is the acting commissioner for the Civil Aviation Authority in Pretoria. He says waiting time may be longer on South African Airlines flights going to Atlanta and New York. "If it is an international flight - particularly one to the United States - it is reasonable to come two to three-hours earlier, because it may not be possible to screen everyone if people do not come on time," he says.

South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper reports that Cape Province is on a heightened state of alert. That status was also assigned during a series of bombings of American companies in Cape Town two-years ago.

The Times quotes a spokesman for the country's National Intelligence Agency as saying security has been tightened around key installations in Cape Town, including parliament, city airports, security and military installations, and a local nuclear power station. Shopping centers and large companies doing business with Americans firms are also taking precautions against possible attacks.

The Sunday Times says a large shopping center and entertainment complex in Cape Town has removed trash bins and improved lighting; it has also installed road blocks for random searches.

Mark Wellman is a security expert with the MTN Centre for Crime Prevention Studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. He says the country was used to paying attention to security during its long war to end apartheid and white minority rule. "If you visited South Africa 15-years ago and walked through a shopping mall, you would have to go through a metal detector and your bag was searched. But as the terrorism threat subsided those measures were done away with. I feel we may have to go back to those measures," syas Mr. Wellman. "One does not want to advocate a state of siege, but if [September 11] has taught us anything, it is that complacency is just as dangerous. I think one should over-react and ensure the safety of civilians rather than under-react and have tragic consequences."

"We can have surveillance cameras in stores, but [security] is also a mindset: South Africans were very aware 15-years ago," Mr. Wellman added. "If you saw an under-attended parcel you would evacuate the area and alert security. We have slipped into a mindset where we ignore those cues and signals that can save people's lives."

Among the reasons for today's renewed caution are two radical Muslim groups based in the Cape Town area People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) and Qibla, which is said to be financed by Libya. Neither group has proven ties with Osama bin Laden, but security specialist Mark Wellman says the Saudi exile does enjoy support among what he calls a radical fringe of disaffected Muslims in Cape Town.

"[Under apartheid] they were not given any political voice and they were forced to live in separate areas. They were victims of oppression as much as black South Africans," said Mr. Wellman. "The sense among some of them is that during the apartheid era as they put it - they were not white enough, and now they are not black enough [to be respected by society]." "After the 1993 attack on the world trade center, one of the perpetrators who has since been convicted and sentenced in American courts was arrested in cape Town and extradited to the United states. So it shows there is a small element that supports bin laden's group," he said. "He also has a small, but vocal, group of supporters in the durban area, partly because the bin Laden family has donated considerable sums of money to various humanitarian causes there but one does not know to what extent the money has been channeled into other things. "

The South African government is working with the United States to monitor bank accounts for possible links to Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network. "We have legislation in place that can freeze the bank accounts and in addition confiscate the assets of organizations, individuals and charities that engage in activities of terrorism and crime," says Logon Wort, spokesman for South Africa Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel. "In that regard our banking system is engaged in monitoring to pick up to try and gauge if such activities are taking place. We are in constant communication with the American government in this regard."

The South African Press Agency quotes the charge d'affaires at the American Embassy in South Africa, John Blaney, as telling journalists that the United States is receiving, what he calls, tangible help from the country's intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

He said the United States has given South Africa the names of about 200 suspects wanted worldwide in connection with Osama bin Laden. No South African is on the list. But one South African group the radical Muslim vigilante group, PAGAD - was included on a list of terrorist organizations.

South Africa's Justice Department has not yet decided whether it will ban PAGAD or any other organization suspected of terrorist activities. A Justice Department spokesman told reporters that any future banning of Muslim groups like PAGAD or Qibla should not be seen as an attack on Islam, since they represent an extremist minority.

In the meantime, the South African government has warned that groups that are signing up people to go to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the Taleban could face prosecution. It says such actions are in violation of a South African law forbidding the recruitment of mercenaries.