JOHANNESBURG - Security experts have called on South Africa’s security apparatus to increase their vigilance against threats of external terrorism.
This comes after it emerged that alleged terrorist Samantha Lewthwaithe was in possession of a South African passport with a fraudulent identity.
However, it is not the first time South Africa is linked to incidents of terror, raising questions of the country’s counter-terrorism capabilities.
If Lewthwaite is eventually confirmed as one of the suspects in the Kenyan mall siege, she would join a long list of terror suspects with links to South Africa.
The terror list includes alleged mastermind of the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was found to be in possession of a South African passport when he was killed in Somalia in 2011.
Haroon Aswat, was arrested in Zambia 2005 and linked to a London 7/7 terror plot. He was also travelling on a South African passport.
Mohammed Gulzar was implicated in a foiled plot to detonate liquid explosives on board flights from Britain to the US. Gulzar lived in South Africa for a few years and also held a fake South African passport.
Despite Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor’s statement that South Africa did not need to be alarmed about terror activity in the country, experts differ.
Annali Botha from the Institute for Security Studies said: “Out of my research in terms of interviewing former Al Shaba members, but also security experts, South Africa was mentioned not only once but a few times.
“South Africa is seen by al-Shabaab as a safe haven. It is a place where they do get their passports not only in terms of the Samantha situation that we referred to, but also others as well,” said Botha.
The country’s porous borders, corrupt access to passports, an advanced banking and ICT network, and a false sense of immunity from terrorism are factors that make South Africa the perfect planning base for terrorists.
Analysts have raised caution on the thin line that exists between being viewed as terrorist safe and becoming a target of terrorism.
Pandor also raised caution at a press conference in Pretoria on Thursday.
“I hope that we learn from what happened in Kenya and all other terror activities elsewhere. I hope that our security forces will be on alert,” she said.