News / Africa

South Africa Probes Possible Links to Kenya Terror Attack

View of a shopping center in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, Aug. 28, 2013.
View of a shopping center in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, Aug. 28, 2013.
Anita Powell
South African officials say they are looking into possible links the Somali militant group al-Shabab may have in South Africa, where experts say they are concerned about the country becoming a hub for fundraising and recruiting for extremist groups. 

Possible links between South Africa and terrorist activity became more public after last week’s attack on an upscale Nairobi mall. While South African officials haven’t given any details, some experts are painting a picture of South Africa as a staging ground for terror groups in Africa.

Brian Dube, a spokesman for South Africa’s State Security Agency, confirmed that South Africa has been investigating possible activity here by Somalia’s al-Shabab group for some time.  However, since the investigation is ongoing, he declined to provide many details.

“We wouldn’t want South Africa to be used as a haven for any criminal activities, and of course including issues of terrorism.  That is something that we would not allow as a government, we wouldn’t want to see that," said Dube.  "So the extent that there could be elements that would want to pursue those interests… ours as a government is to be responsible and to ensure that we need to do our part and we need to close all networks and make sure that there is no avenue which will allow our country to be used as a springboard for any terrorist or criminal activities.”

“White Widow” connection?

South Africa is the continent’s economic and banking hub.  It is also a magnet for refugees from all over Africa. And it may have a link to a woman some have speculated is a Kenya attack suspect, the so-called “White Widow.”  No officials have confirmed whether Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, a self-professed jihadi who is the widow of one of the London 2005 suicide bombers, was involved in the Nairobi attack.

But she has been a wanted terrorist for some time.  Interpol put out a worldwide arrest warrant for her last year, and on Thursday - on Kenya’s request - the police agency issued a high-priority "Red Notice" for her arrest.

This week, South Africa’s Home Affairs minister said Lewthwaite at one time possessed a fraudulent South African passport.  South African media reported that she took out bank loans under an alias and rented an apartment in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Johannesburg.

Last year, the U.S. State Department cited analysts who noted South Africa’s large Somali community and the presence of al-Shabab sympathizers.  Those analysts believe that groups here may be helping fund violent extremism in East Africa.

Possible safe haven

Anneli Botha, a senior terrorism researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, recently returned from Nairobi, where she was helping train Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit.

Botha said although her focus is on terrorism groups outside of South Africa, her nation is often mentioned in talk of terror groups’ strategies and efforts.

“I think in South Africa we’re often considered to be more of a safe haven than really an immediate target.  But what you also have to start to realize, maybe not only as citizens, but also as government, that the threat of terrorism is a reality," she said. "It is something that is affecting other African countries, and we have an equally responsible role to go after those and assist these countries in their investigations.”

Naeem Jeenah, executive director of the Johannesburg-based Afro-Middle East Center, said South Africa’s 1.5 million Muslims are not especially worried about being accidentally caught in a police dragnet.  But he warned authorities against being overzealous.

“The South African Muslim community doesn’t have any concerns about this kind of thing," he said. "Concerns, however, are around particularly foreigners, foreign Muslims that are in South Africa, and in this situation now, particularly Somalis. …  The reality is that when these kinds of incidents happen… when the kinds of incidents happen as we just saw in Nairobi, then there is also increased pressure put on the South African government.  And when that happens, then they get a little more brazen in their monitoring kind of activities.”

He also noted that South Africa has a propensity towards xenophobic violence, particularly against Somali nationals - and warned authorities to be mindful of sending communities over the edge in a nation that is already notorious for violent crime.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More