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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs