South Africa's national police commissioner says authorities arrested and deported several individuals linked to the global al-Qaida terror network last month. It is the first time the government has documented activity of al-Qaida in South Africa.
National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi says the arrest of several people linked to al-Qaida in South Africa led to raids and arrests in Jordan, Syria and Great Britain.
He made the surprise announcement Wednesday while speaking to the parliamentary committee on safety and security, but the local news media only reported the news the following day.
Mr. Selebi says the arrests were carried out shortly before South Africa's general election, which took place on April 14.
?We arrested some people who had evil intentions against this country,? he said. ?We did not tell anybody. Five days before the election, we got these people to leave. One of them, the result is that you saw in Jordan in and around those days a number of people who were called al-Qaida were arrested in Jordan. It was a result of our operation. A number of people were arrested in Syria. It was as a result of our operation.?
Mr. Selebi did not give many more details of the operation. He did not say who the alleged operatives were, where they were from, where they were arrested or what they were believed to be planning.
The police commissioner's spokeswoman refused to comment when contacted by VOA.
Although South Africa has faced domestic terrorism in the past, this is the first time the government has revealed documented activity by an international terrorist network such as al-Qaida. Terrorism researchers are frustrated by the lack of details. Analyst Anneli Botha of the Institute for Security Studies in Cape Town says she needs more information before she can evaluate the extent of the threat.
?The conditions for the arrest in the first place is quite interesting,? she said. ?I would like, I think we all would like, to have more information about what the conditions were for the arrest and what were they arrested for? And what happened after that? Were there communications between our government and those countries? So it is a lot of questions that one would ask, and whether we would be able to get the answers is a different situation.?
It appears South African police are continuing to investigate whatever local connections the alleged al-Qaida operatives made here. Commissioner Selebi said the raids overseas yielded some very interesting evidence.
?In London, the British police found boxes and boxes of South African passports in a home of one of these people or an associate of one of these people,? he said. ?Which says to me, there must be a link that people are able to acquire these documents.?
It is not clear whether any foreign intelligence or law enforcement operatives were involved in foiling the al-Qaida plot in South Africa. A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Pretoria said American law enforcement, in her words, had nothing to do with this particular matter.
It is also not clear why the South African government waited so long to announce the arrests. One theory is that South Africa recently won the right to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup and security was considered a key issue in awarding the tournament.