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

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora