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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid