Fears of Islamic State Presence Grow in South Africa
South African officials are vowing to dismantle terror cells that have links to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We will not allow our territory to be used to fund terrorism in other countries,” said Mondli Gungubele, the minister in the presidency responsible for state security on November 9. “As such and working with our counterparts in the fight against terrorism, we will do everything in our power to uncover and root out acts of terrorism and illicit financing in particular.”
In November, less than a week after the United States and other countries issued a terror alert in South Africa, the U.S. Treasury Department filed sanctions against four Durban men who allegedly procure weapons and money for ISIS.
Farhad Hoomer, Siraaj Miller and Abdella Hussein Abadigga play “an increasingly central role in facilitating the transfer of funds from the top of the ISIS hierarchy to branches across Africa,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. Peter Charles Mbaga was accused of transferring money and equipment from South Africa to ISIS-Mozambique and seeking to secure weapons from Mozambique.
Hoomer is alleged to have begun ISIS operations in Durban in 2017 or 2018 and is accused of using kidnap-for-ransom schemes and extortion of major businesses to fund ISIS activities. He is reported to be in contact with ISIS-Democratic Republic of the Congo and ISIS supporters around South Africa..
In 2018, South African authorities arrested Hoomer and some of his associates over a plan to deploy “improvised incendiary devices” near a mosque and commercial and retail buildings. The case was later thrown out.
Since losing territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has increasingly made inroads on the continent. Drawn by abundant natural resources and porous borders, some experts say the group now operates in more than 20 African nations.
Willem Els, a counter-terrorism expert and senior training coordinator for the ENACT Project at the Institute for Security Studies, said the latest reports are not cause for the public to panic. However, he noted that it is concerning that terror groups could use South Africa as a hub to finance acts of terror in other countries. He pointed to the past inability to convict suspected terrorists as evidence of a need for a tougher stance.
“I think it’s time that we maybe rethink our strategy, rethink our political will on how to tackle these things,” Els told Newzroom Afrika.
A report delivered to the U.N. Security Council this year pointed to several large transactions originating in South Africa and sent to suspected ISIS affiliates totaling more than $1 million.
While the U.N. report noted that the threat from the Islamic State is “relatively low in non-conflict zones,” such as South Africa, it added that terrorist threats are “much higher in areas directly affected by conflict or neighboring it,” such as South Africa’s war-torn neighbor Mozambique. The terror alert issued in late October claimed that ISIS planned an attack “targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg, South Africa.”
While the alert gave little further information, Martin Ewi, a lead analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, said there must have been “solid evidence” of a pending attack.
“This was one of the most precise alerts,” Ewi told Vice World News. “They told you when and where the attack was going to happen. Very few alerts have those kinds of details.”
Although there were no attacks that day, ISIS poses real danger in South Africa, argued terrorism expert Jasmine Opperman.
“The ISIS threat has been growing here, but South Africans are naive and like to think that this can never happen to them,” Opperman told Vice. “We need to wake up and see the threat is here.”