Terror threat shadows Johannesburg games

Ahead of World Cup, groups ranging from Islamic to Afrikaans extremists place SA in precarious position.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
April 27, 2010 06:12
3 minute read.
A simulation exercise in Johannesburg

world cup exercise Johannesburg 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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JOHANNESBURG – South Africans are gearing up for the soccer World Cup, which kicks off in Johannesburg on June 11. Cars are flying South African flags, and on “Football Fridays” citizens are encouraged to wear the colors of local team Bafana Bafana.

Everything is being put in place, including security for the teams and the visitors from abroad. However, there is the unspoken fear of a terrorist incident capitalizing on the maximum publicity such a target would generate.

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Anneli Botha, a senior researcher in terrorism at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, told an audience this week at Beyachad – the center of Jewish activity in Johannesburg – that the threat of such an act could not be ruled out.

Terror attacks at large sporting events are not uncommon. Perhaps best remembered and of particular pain to Israel was the 1972 attack on the Israeli athletes in Munich. There was also the Eric Rudolph attack at the Atlantic Olympic Games in 1996 and the attempted hit by an Islamic Movement in the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. There have been plots to disrupt Football World Cup tournaments in France (1998) and Japan (2002).

Islamic-oriented group PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs), which caused havoc during the late 1990s, has been quiet, but is still operating from Cape Town. The group used mostly pipe bombs and drive-by shootings; 43 counts of murder and 100 of attempted murder have been investigated, but with a relatively low conviction rate. Members have attacked police stations, other gangs and, most notoriously, a Planet Hollywood restaurant on Cape Town’s Waterfront Development. In that attack, a British family on holiday was seriously affected.

Botha, who is Afrikaans herself, said there was a possible threat from Afrikaans right-wing extremists, who are smoldering particularly after the recent brutal murder of their leader Eugene Terre’Blanche by two black men.

There is a long history of murders of farmers, all white and mostly Afrikaners, in isolated and vulnerable homes. Since 1994, when the African National Congress took over the government of the country, over 3,000 farmers have been killed. Many believe that they are victims of ethnic cleansing and land grabs, Zimbabwe-style. Furthermore, the Afrikaners believe that they and their culture are being deliberately marginalized. This could well be a simmering volcano for terrorist acts.

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One of the big concerns about South Africa hosting the World Cup is transnational terrorism. It. has often been mooted that South Africa is a safe haven for terrorists. Khalfan Khamis Muhammad was arrested in Cape Town in 2004 for his involvement in the US Embassy bombing in Dar es-Salaam in 1998; Feroze Ganchi and Zubeir Ishmail were arrested by Pakistani authorities; and in 2007, Junaid Ismail Dockrat and Moulana Farhad Ahmed Dockrat were “red-flagged” by the US and UN. All had some connection with South Africa.

In addition, Haroon Rashid Aswat, involved in the London 7/7 bombings, was arrested in Zambia, and there were rumors that South Africa had been instrumental in the arrest. Others mentioned by Botha were al-Qaida’s Abu Hamza Rabia, Habib Ahmed, Rangzieb Ahmed and Muhammad Zilhur Rahman.

With the world’s media focused on South Africa, the World Cup presents an ideal opportunity for a terror attack. Aiding that atmosphere are persistent strikes and complaints by workers about the lack of service delivery, and a large group of discontented youth who are unable to find jobs and are largely not well educated.

As South Africa prides itself on its respect for basic human rights, wrongdoers often get away with light sentences in the courts. The country’s borders are long and porous and easily breached. Corruption and bribery of officials and police is common. Crime is rampant; there is a high murder rate, and armed robberies and carjackings are commonplace.

It is estimated that more than 6,000 South African passports have been illegally bought from Home Affairs officials and used to gain entry into the United Kingdom. South Africans travelling to Britain now have to get visas to enter.

Officially there are low expectations that there will be a threat or an incident, but this may be more of a hope than a reality. Still, the South African authorities have done a great deal of planning for a successful tournament.

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