South Africa’s concern over Islamic radical groups did not begin on 9/11. It began during the FW de Klerk administration in the early 1990’s and escalated in the mid-1990’s with the People against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD); a small terrorist cell located in their Western Cape province. Both Al-Qaeda’s 1998 United States (US) embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 9/11 terror attacks forced the US to reexamine security on the African continent. America hoped, at a minimum, that most African countries would assist in this new US-led war against extremists that not only threatened US national security, but international security as well. This paper assesses South Africa’s involvement with the US in the war against Islamic extremism. It argues that, for the most part, South Africa has cooperated with the global power despite some conflicting views, and has played a beneficial role in helping to reduce the presence and activity of Islamic terrorists within their borders.
There have been numerous words or phrases to describe America’s goal of defeating “terrorists” who threaten to attack its country and its citizens. These include the war on terror, the global war on terrorism, and the long war. For clarity purposes, this paper utilizes the term “war against Islamic extremism.”
Why this specific wording? Because there are numerous problems with the word “terrorist.” Firstly, there are a number of groups labeled terrorist organizations by the US State Department. However, this particular war is not against a Colombian or Japanese organization. It is against individuals and groups who are often associated to specific Muslim extremist groups like al-Qaeda. Therefore, it is not an “us vs. them” scenario. Although these particular Islamic extremist groups share commonalities, they do have differences. Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to say it is an overall war on terror or a global one when most attention and financial resources are focused on fighting these Islamic radical groups in the areas of the world where they operate.
It is also particularly important to clarify the wording because one must remember that the current South African ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) was labeled a terrorist organization by the US during most of apartheid, as well as a significant period afterwards. The US State Department writes in 2007: ‘The South African government is sensitive to distinctions between ‘terrorist organizations’ and ‘liberation movements’ since the ruling ANC was long branded a terrorist group during the struggle against apartheid.
With that clarified, South Africa’s willingness or not to be an ally in the US-led war against Islamic extremism has been a considerable component of the US-South African relationship in the post apartheid era. Although 9/11 was the event that raised the bar on the war, America and South Africa had previous experiences with the issue since the 1990’s; most notably the attacks in South Africa by a indigenous network organization formerly known as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) and the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania by Al Qaeda, both occurring in 1998.
Both countries have concerns relating to the other when it comes to defeating Islamic extremists. America has been closely monitoring the numerous connections between Islamic extremist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and South Africa since the mid-1990s and 9/11. Other worrying trends in America’s eyes include members of these particular organizations using South African passports and reports of extremist training camps operating within South Africa’s borders. South Africa has its own concerns. It feels that international law, and human rights in particular, should be abided by. South Africa has been very vocal about certain US foreign policy behaviors, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially due to the faulty intelligence presented by Washington. South Africa also does not want to upset their local Muslim population, and they feel the outright support of the US-led war would do just that.
Although there have been perceived times of disagreement such as with the Dockrats, two South Africans added to a list of Al Qaeda terrorists in 2007, there were perceived times of agreement, with the extradition or deportation of alleged Islamic extremists. This paper argues that the more common occurrence is the latter. It will make this argument by investigating the pertinent issues from both the American and South African perspectives. Additionally, it will analyze the key events encompassing the war that occurred between the early 1990’s and present day, highlighting US-South Africa cooperation, which sometimes went against South Africa’s views on a particular issue.
America’s concerns over South Africa and the “war”
According to the US State Department, defense of the homeland is one of America’s broad foreign policy interests. The war against Islamic extremism fulfills this objective by engaging those who use terrorist tactics before they have the time and the means to carry out an attack against America. South Africa is a vital link in this mission due to a variety of reasons that will be discussed throughout this essay such as the growth of Islamic extremists on the African continent. And when it comes to these issues, Washington and Pretoria have had their fair share of disagreements and cooperative moments.
When it became clear in the late 1980’s and early 1990s that the ANC be taking over the reins of the South African government, the US immediately became worried about the weapons of mass destruction program developed under the Apartheid regime. Most of the government and literary attention focused on South Africa’s nuclear program, but their biological and chemical weapons were by no means insignificant.
On May 2002 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), devised a plan to hijack source material from South Africa’s biological weapons program — material the new South African government had for years claimed was destroyed when the secret apartheid-era program called Project Coast was shut down. A document obtained by the South African newspaper Mail and Guardian showed the American plan was first a covert project to remove South Africa’s unacknowledged biological stockpile — with the help of one of the scientists, Daan Goosen.
Goosen reportedly delivered his biological toxin sample to the FBI on 9 May 2002 via a toothpaste tube that concealed a vial of a less dangerous pathogen, an organism that was however technically advanced because it was based on genetic modification. However, the FBI decided to reject the deal and the US embassy reported Goosen to South African Police Service (SAPS) without telling South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA). The NIA eventually came across the police investigation and the fallout became embarrassing for the NIA as Goosen — a man who was supposedly close to the Agency- had made contact with the Americans without telling them.
The US used this incident and South African government’s failure to come clean about its biological assets to portray them as a proliferation risk. Goosen himself believed he was deliberately set up by the US to make South Africa look bad. Investigative journalists Sam Sole and Stefaans Brummer uncovered that South African government officials admit privately that organisms and pathogens developed by Project Coast still exist. This was important because the US remained concerned about the prospect of Islamic extremists obtaining such materials.
There was further American anxiety because of the perception that South Africa was not successfully combating security related issues. This feeling came about much earlier then the 2002 Goosen incident. One of the main events that elevated this view came on August 6, 1998 when an explosion occurred outside the offices of the South African police special investigation task team. The Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town was attacked later that same month. These two events propelled the South African Islamic extremist group PAGAD into the world of Islamic terrorism.
PAGAD was formed in 1996 as a community anticrime group fighting drugs and violence in the Cape Flats section of Cape Town. By early 1998, they had also become antigovernment and anti-Western, according to the US State Department. PAGAD and its Islamic ally, Qibla, viewed the South African Government as a threat to Islamic values and consequently promoted greater political voice for South African Muslims. PAGAD used several front names, including Muslims Against Global Oppression (MAGO) and Muslims Against Illegitimate Leaders (MAIL), when they launched anti-Western protests and campaigns.
Officials from the FBI assisted South African police to determine whether there was any link between the bombing at the American related restaurant and the missile strikes US President Bill Clinton launched against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the 1998 US embassy bombings. This question was answered when a person claiming to represent MAGO telephoned a South African radio station shortly after the explosion claiming responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for the US strikes. An official statement by the group later denied any connection with the bombing, but PAGAD was ultimately determined to be the organization behind it.
US Attorney General Janet Reno’s attendance at the US-South African Binational Commission meeting in February 1999 was regarded as a strong indication of just how seriously the US considered the problem of security related issues in South Africa, which included Islamic extremism. US Vice President Al Gore also had what was referred to as a ‘massive retinue of security personnel’ larger than his normal tight security, in case security risks arose from organizations such as PAGAD, which was indeed warranted at the time.
PAGAD members perpetrated at least 14 prominent acts of terrorism in 2001 that included attacks against eyewitnesses in PAGAD-related court cases, restaurants and international interests. One of the larger attacks occurred on August 29, 2001, when a car bomb was detonated near the US consulate in Cape Town injuring seven people.
It also became obvious to America at this time that South Africa’s intelligence capacity was somewhat lacking. In 1998, writer Anthony Holiday maintained that there are intelligence-gathering organizations like the South African NIA, but they are leaky and crippled by inefficiency and Byzantine office intrigues, as a new breed of ANC analysts and operatives struggle to wrestle control from apartheid-era survivors. Due to this fact, (and also because of the friendly disposition Pretoria evinced towards the likes of Cuba’s Castro, Palestine’s Arafat and Libya’s Qadaffi), “foreign intelligence agencies, like the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service, no longer supply us [South Africa] with ‘feed’ from their spy satellites – something they readily did before apartheid died.” Most are aware that satellites photos are what Holiday refers to as the the “staple diet of spies in the developed world.” Without them, a modern intelligence or political adviser is like “grandma without her bifocals.”
Intelligence was not the only problem witnessed at this time. SAPS were viewed as not effective enough to tackle numerous issues such as organized crime, which included groups with links to international terrorism and political corruption, amongst others. This led to a partnership between the US and South Africa to create a specialized investigative unit or what was referred to as the South African version of the FBI. Dale Stockton, supervisor of the Carlsbad Police Department in California notes that after a month of training at home, followed by almost three months of training in the US, a very select group known as the Scorpions emerged. The Directorate of Special Operations or the ‘Scorpions’ was given the job of investigating and prosecuting organize crime and corruption, in order to ensure a safe and secure environment for South Africa to grow and develop. The Scorpions were later dismantled by South Africa’s parliament in October 2008 due to controversy over political corruption. Its members were integrated into SAPS in 2009.
This was seen as somewhat of a blow due to America’s concern over the prevalence of international organized crime in South Africa. Nigerian syndicates, amongst others, engage in a wide variety of illegal activities from car hijackings and credit card thefts to the trafficking of arms, guns, drugs and even people. These syndicates are becoming increasing linked to Islamic extremist organizational structures. The State Department reported in 2010 that “South Africa’s direct international air links and its permeable land borders made it vulnerable to illegal immigration, trafficking, and international organized crime.”
This becomes an even larger problem when several suspects having links to al-Qaeda have been arrested in South Africa. The first and probably the most publicized case was that of Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, who was involved in the killing of hundreds of people on August 7, 1998 in simultaneous car bomb explosions at the US embassies at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. Although the targets were US government facilities, most of its victims were African civilians: approximately 11 Tanzanians were killed in Dar es Salaam and around 200 Kenyans were killed in Nairobi. Mohammed entered South Africa a week later on a tourist visa he had obtained the day before the attacks. Mohamed then applied for asylum under a fictitious name and lived in Cape Town for more than year working at Burger World. Eventually Mohammed’s luck ran out when he was arrested in October 1999 while still living in South Africa. Prosecutors alleged that Mohamed was the one who rented the residence where he and his accomplices assembled the Tanzania bomb; he provided the TNT and the rode in the actual bomb truck.
Three years later, in 2002, Mohamed Suleman Vaid and his wife Moshena of Durban were arrested at a Swaziland border post with more than one million Rand (US$130,000) hidden in their clothing. Vaid denied that the money was for al-Qaeda, but authorities claimed that the money was on its way to a Mozambique citizen with al-Qaeda connections. Reports that also surfaced revealed al-Qaeda was buying gold and diamonds to make it more difficult to trace the organization’s wealth in Africa.
Cases such as these have led to the American perception that South Africa may be targeted as a new logistical and operational hub by Islamic extremists. However, it is not only the US that shares this view. Israel is concerned that South Africa is a safe haven for international Islamic extremist organizations as well. In 1996, Israel lodged a formal complaint with the South African government regarding the existence of five Hezbollah training camps. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal reported a growing concern among security analysts that ‘Islamist extremists, including Al-Qaeda, are using South Africa’s open society as a safe haven and a base to raise funds, launder money and plan terror operations.’ One American counterterrorism official told The Journal, ‘[we] are detecting so much smoke lately that something’s got to be burning down there somewhere.’ In July 2003, the Israeli Security Services declared that there is ‘recognizable [Hamas] activity in South Africa.’
The issue of al-Qaeda leaders hiding in South Africa arose again in October 2004 when the CIA named South Africa as one of the countries where a new tier of al-Qaeda leaders were hiding. This news came in quite a dramatic fashion as a special investigation aired by the American television network CBS revealed that a recent CIA report had identified 29 new leaders serving as a ‘second and third tier’ in the al-Qaeda hierarchy stretching from Pakistan and Iraq to South Africa. Responding to the CBS report, South African intelligence sources said both the police and NIA were investigating alleged al-Qaeda operatives said to be functioning in South Africa—in Cape Town, Durban, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. This became an even bigger worry after Barry Gilder, the coordinator of South Africa’s National Intelligence Coordinating Committee at the time, indicated that terrorists with links to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan were increasingly spending time in South Africa.
The issue of al-Qaeda linked individuals in South Africa reached a climax in January 2007. The US Department of the Treasury added two South Africans, Farhad Ahmed Dockrat and Junaid Ismail Dockrat, as well as a Johannesburg-based company controlled by the latter, Sniper Africa, to its list of “specially designated global terrorists” for their role in financing al-Qaeda. Farhad transferred money to Taliban representatives in Pakistan, according to reports, which was then forwarded to al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, Junaid was in direct telephone and email contact with Abu Hamza Rabia, Abu Faraj al-Libi’s successor as al-Qaeda’s operations chief, to coordinate the sending of South Africans to Pakistan for terrorist training. Junaid also allegedly came up with US$120,000 to help sponsor the recruits’ travel and study under Abu Hamza before the latter met his end at the hands of a US-operated unmanned aerial vehicle in late 2002.
According to Shillinger, the US was irate when it was leaked to the press—on a Friday in time for the Sunday headlines—that the US had added both Dockrats to their list of global terrorists. Shillinger indicated that the US and South Africa were in negotiations over the issue for more than six months prior, as South Africa was gathering strong evidence for their courts and the US was preparing an overseas intelligence docket. The leak supposedly came from the South African embassy in Washington after the US thought South Africa was dragging their feet on the issue.
Many South Africans were upset about the news when they read it in the Sunday newspapers. K. Brown, a writer for the South Africa Business Day stated: ‘while the Dockrats could well be linked to al-Qaeda, their treatment raises serious questions about our sovereignty as a state.’ Brown went on to say:
SA’s handling of its relationship with the US points to the fact that government is willing to fall into line with the US and to do its dirty work on the continent. Not only does the ANC betray its own political history by adding its weight to prevent other international liberation movements from charting a similar course to its own, it is allowing itself to become a proxy for the US in its shameful bullying of the world.
Then when the US State Department forwarded the designation to the UN Security Council al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma used her country’s membership on the Council to stop what would have otherwise been a routine endorsement of the ruling.
Another American concern that gained prominence around this time is Islamic extremists using South African documentation to move around the globe. Al-Libi, also known as Ibrahim Tantouche, emerged in South Africa in February 2004 when he was detained for holding a fake South African passport. A few months later, British security agencies found boxes of South African passports at the home of a suspected al-Qaeda member in the United Kingdom. The passports were legitimate passports, not fakes, indicating that they were obtained illegally through a South African government official. There was a strong possibility that al-Libi acquired the fake passport through al-Qaeda support structures in South Africa. Media sources reveal that Al-Libi previously directed the al-Qaeda terrorist financing fronts, the Afghan Support Committee and Revival of Islamic Society, which diverted money to al-Qaeda.
Another incident occurred on July 19, 2004, when US authorities arrested a South African woman, Farida Goolam Mohamed Ahmed, for trying to enter America illegally from Mexico. Several pages had been torn out of her passport. The US government quickly investigated any possible ties she may have had to terrorist activities in Pakistan. Not even a week later, two South African suspects – Feroz Ibrahim and Zubair Ismail – were arrested in Pakistan with Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an al-Qaeda operative wanted by the FBI for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings.
Ibrahim and Ismail, two South Africans of Asian descent, were arrested during a 12-hour gun battle with Pakistani police in the eastern city of Gujrat, which led to the capture of Ghailani. Gujrat’s police chief, Raja Munawar Hussainl, alleged that the two—Ismail, 20, an Islamic student, and Ibrahim, 30, a doctor—were “plotting attacks in their home country.” According to Hussainl, authorities found several maps of South African cities among the items seized in the raid. Pakistani police said they believed there were several targets for attack in South Africa, including the US embassy, the Sheraton hotel and the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the Johannesburg Securities Exchange, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront shopping centre in Cape Town and the Cunard liner, the QE2, which stops at Cape Town and Durban.
The US Department of Homeland Security put inspectors at major airports and seaports across the nation on high alert for suspicious travelers from South Africa in response to the events mentioned. “Al-Qaida and other terrorists may be utilizing South African passports to facilitate travel” to the US, warned the four-page bulletin issued by US Customs and Border Protection, a bureau of Homeland Security. It advised of suspicious routes of entry, which included passage through Britain, Canada or Mexico. Britain and Mexico do not require any type of visa for South Africans.
Most recently, a fake South African passport was found on Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, when he was killed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia in June 2011. This particular Mohammed was seen as the alleged “mastermind” behind the 1998 embassy bombings was also suspected of plotting the Kampala bombings a year ago by al-Shabaab, an East African militant group.
Lastly, America is aware of South Africa’s small but vocal Muslim community. South African Muslim leaders have previously admitted there was a problem in their community with Islamic extremism. As activist Naeem Jeenah wrote on his website in 2007: “We do have people in our community who are sympathetic to al Qaeda and the Taliban; we do have people in our community who hold the same ideologies as those groups.”
Events have shown that terrorists were able to circumvent South African authorities by trafficking essential documents like passports and by being able to enter the country, thus highlighting the ineffectiveness of some of South African organizations. More recent events in Zimbabwe have also shown a lack of border control by South Africa, which is a worry to the US. Kurt Shillinger also points out that the South African constitution is a problem in the war against Islamic extremism because there are numerous legal ways to stay in South Africa.
South Africa’s concerns over America and the “war”
When it comes to America’s war against Islamic extremism, one of the most vital issues from the South African perspective is the historical relationship between the US and the ANC. South African history has shown it is not always easy to distinguish between two opposing sides; hence the term one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Current South African government officials may also recall that during the Reagan years alone, South African attacks against the neighboring countries with the help of the US and the UK killed thousands of people and devastated multiple areas. The history, and the labeling of the ANC in particular, was a thorn in the flesh of South Africa officials for a long time and it certainly complicated relations. How could the ANC be expected to act against “terrorists” when they themselves were defined that way?
The wound from the thorn has slowly begin to heal since July 1, 2008 when the Anti-apartheid Visa Bill law was passed by US President Bush, authorizing the US government to lift the stigma against South Africa members of ANC wishing to travel to the US. The issue had been a problem since 1994 reaching borderline absurdity in 2007, when Barbara Masekela, South Africa’s ambassador to the US from 2002 to 2006, was denied a visa to visit her ailing cousin and did not receive a waiver until after her cousin had died. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called the previous designation “embarrassing” at the time. “This is a country with which we now have excellent relations, South Africa, but it’s frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela,” Rice told a Senate committee in April 2008.
Nevertheless, it is clear that South Africa is no stranger when in comes to Islamic extremism. It made its initial acquaintance while FW de Klerk was still President, when friendly Arab governments warned that known Islamic radicals (whose movements they apparently monitored) were entering South Africa to set up religious academies for the purposes of indoctrination. According to former South African ambassador Victor Zazeraj, South Africa was well advanced into the new political situation at the time, and all major government decisions were already being dealt with by a multiparty Transitional Executive Council (TEC). Moreover, the warnings were “fed into the system”, so to speak, but South Africa had other more immediate problems: there were many uncertainties about the country’s future and all kinds of groups threatening to disrupt proceedings, so it is suspected these warnings went onto the backburner and never surfaced again.
From the South African point of view, it was and is fully cognizant of what is occurring within their borders. In March 2007, reports surfaced of paramilitary camps, extremist activities and extraordinary renditions of jihadi suspects in South Africa. Then on March 13, Barry Gilder, coordinator of South Africa’s National Intelligence Coordinating Committee, indicated that terrorists with links to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan were increasingly spending time in the country. Coinciding with Gilder’s remarks, a Johannesburg magazine featured an expose of an alleged jihadi training facility outside Port Elizabeth. James Sanders wrote the feature and provided pictures of the property—including images of a shooting range and makeshift mosque. South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils also responded to the CIA report three years earlier by saying: “That is nothing new. Even before 9/11, there was a [al-Qaeda] presence.” Kasrils was referring to al-Qaeda bomber Khalfan Mohammed.
Kasrils mentioning of 9/11 is important, as South Africa witnessed the strong impact the event had on America and its foreign policy. The first official South African government statement described the events as “terror attacks.” The statement said that South African president Thabo Mbeki learnt “with shock and dismay” of the attacks and the South African government “joins the world in unreservedly denouncing these senseless and horrific attacks.” A former high-level government official in the Bush administration recalls that Mandela phoned Bush and offered his support and condolences. Furthermore, the South African government expressed “its confidence that the United States’ authorities will ensure the perpetrators face the full might of the law.” The ANC’s official response was one of absolute condemnation.
The South African government was concerned, however, about how the US would choose to respond to the attacks. On America’s military actions in Afghanistan, the government reaffirmed “its unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks on various cities of the USA” and recognized the right of America to “seek out those responsible for those acts of terror”, but reiterated the need for “hard evidence” to precede harsh actions, and of the importance of caution to prevent the deaths of civilians. Thus the South African government’s official response to the 9/11 attacks can be said to be one of outright condemnation, but not one of absolute support for America’s retaliatory actions.
As we all know, official government statements often do not reveal the feelings that are far closer to the truth. For example, Eastern Cape Premier, Makhenkesi Stofile’s responded to the attacks by saying: “I do not know for sure that these are acts of terror. They could be guerrilla tactics fighting for something. In that case, guerrillas use small units as a tactic not as an act of cowardice. These are the same tactics the ANC used and we too were labeled as terrorists.” Speaker of Parliament, Frene Ginwala’s comments said that the attackers were driven by despair as a result of America’s unwillingness to engage in dialogue with regard to various issues.
Regardless, on 12 September, the US embassy in Pretoria thanked South Africans for their support. “We have been deeply touched by the outpouring of support and sympathy from the South African people,” US Charge d’Affairs Steve Buckler told people outside the embassy. South African residents laid dozens of wreaths or bouquets at the front gate and more than 50 people also signed a condolence book at the gate, writing messages of support for the American people. Many South Africans had also offered to donate blood.
Bush allegedly telephoned Mbeki a week later (on September 19), but had not asked South Africa for military support, according to South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma was quite stern from the beginning that South Africa would not commit military resources. “We are not considering that option. It was not raised. In our own approach on how terrorism should be fought a military option is not in the offing right now,” she told reporters. Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad, said Bush telephoned at about 2pm (South African time) and had thanked South Africa and the government for its support. Bush had repeated that America could not stamp out terrorism alone, and that a global coalition was necessary. In addition, Bush emphasized that his country and government was not against Islam or Arabs, and that there was no “collective guilt” approach to any people.
In a South African meeting to discuss the attacks, government spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe said the meeting had begun with a minute of silence in honor of the late Govan Mbeki (Mbeki’s father) and the victims of the 9/11 attacks. South Africa would cooperate with all effort to apprehend the culprits and bring them to book, Netshitenzhe said.
The 9/11 attacks brought South Africa’s two largest Muslim groups, PAGAD and Qibla back into the media spotlight. Koos van der Merve, a former South African National Defence Force intelligence official, revealed: “Qibla has about 260 members. They are tightly knit and exist in cells of about six or less in number. Some Qibla members are top leaders inside PAGAD. They use radio station 786 to spew anti-Western venom and recruit new terrorists.” Adriana Stuijt, a Dutch journalist and former anti-apartheid activist, stated that terrorist attacks would likely increase in number. Stuijt added:
Journalists like myself inside South Africa have been warning US government officials inside South Africa for the past nine years about the incredibly volatile anti-American sentiments and the dangers they represent to all pro-Westerners.… I, in fact, attended many meetings even inside mosques in which this hatred was preached constantly and consistently throughout my reporting years, and I have also reported how it has been growing in intensity ever since then.
Another shock came on November 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Queens shortly after taking off from JFK International Airport in New York. There were immediate concerns that this was a terrorist attack and people looked to the White House for answers. Bush was meeting with Mandela in Washington at the time when he received the news of the plane crash. Mandela expressed his deepest sympathies in the press briefing. He added: “But I know you have quite a strong leader, and the people of the United States of America can face disaster, and I’m sure that they will overcome this unfortunate incident.” Mandela offered his support for American actions in Afghanistan stating: “The United States of America lost 5,000 people, innocent people, and it is quite correct for the President to ensure that the terrorists, those masterminds, as well as those who have executed the action and survived, are to be punished heavily.”
South Africa had a major concern about what was being perceived as Muslims and Christians being involved in a fight for global superiority. This topic began to make headlines in their country’s newspapers. Professor Peter Vale raised the question of whether or not a country like South Africa, where each of a thousand social balances are delicately poised, could tip one way or the other on an issue like this. Vale, answering his own question, said the plain truth is it could not. Vale wrote that South Africa’s concern should be with humanity: “with those who died in New York, with those who needlessly perished in Afghanistan and the many lives that this crusade now threatens.” It was also pointed out that the South African government must jog the memories of how, in the years following World War II, a coalition not very different to the present one embraced the apartheid government for 46 years and how easy it was for them to believe that Nelson Mandela should be imprisoned for 27 of them because he was a communist. Vale was essentially saying South Africa should be careful how far they lean and to which side (i.e., towards the US or towards the right for people to fight for their freedom).
South Africa has continuously held the view that issues such as terrorism should be dealt with through the United Nations (UN) and related organizations. Describing the terrorist attack in Bali in October 2002 that killed more than 180 people, as well as the attacks in the Philippines, Yemen and Kuwait, Pahad said South Africa would have to deal with these new challenges through the UN and similar bodies. Briefing the media on the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Annual Report, Pahad said South Africa would maintain its broader mission of campaigning for greater equity between North and South and for the strengthening of multilateral organizations, which had been weakened since the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11 last year. In addition, he said the period after the 9/11 attacks had brought new challenges and the need to deal with concepts such as the “axis of evil”, the clash of civilizations, regime change, and whether “you are for or against us.”
At this time, one of South Africa’s main concerns arose, which was America’s invasion of Iraq. In South Africa’s eyes, the situation in Afghanistan was one aspect and the war in Iraq was something totally different. Aziz Pahad, South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, led a delegation of weapons experts to Baghdad to disprove US claims of weapons of mass destruction there. None of the stated reasons for going to war, much less America’s supposed intelligence information, was considered plausible. This soured relations, and placed a big question mark over cooperation with the US. How do you cooperate with the US when the intelligence they are sharing with you is demonstrably flawed? On top of that, in the heightened tensions after 9/11, American representatives sometimes went over the top and behaved in ways that alienated their friends. They acted as if US interests, or their version of those interests, superseded every other country’s interests, and they did not care whose interests they trampled on in doing what they had to do.
This was perhaps understandable in the context of the time, but one has to say it did not help either country. It was a temporary irritation, but even such experiences take time to overcome, and may go some way towards explaining the occasional reluctance of South African officials to respond favorably to demands by their US counterparts.
South Africa further maintained that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 would have a “profound effect on the poor countries of the world, particularly in Africa, which would set back development and progress years and perhaps even decades.” This line of thinking implies that the war would lead to more terrorist recruits around the world if Iraq turned into a failed state. One of South Africa’s suggestions to the US is to examine the root causes of conflict and to make reduction of poverty and the peaceful resolution of conflicts their main priority. With South Africa’s role in Angola, Burundi and the DRC peace process, they perceive themselves as well positioned to take advantage of the benefits that come from America’s preoccupation with defeating terrorism by Islamic extremists, or any other group for that matter. South Africa feels that when the underdeveloped economies of Southern Africa grow, it will create an environment where stability and democracy will flourish.
This irritation over Iraq most likely played its part when President Bush and Mbeki met in Washington in 2005. It is believed that the war against Islamic extremism was discussed. It was an important factor to the US, as Kurt Shillinger of the South African Institute of International Affairs points out, Western officials quietly admitted that Pretoria’s ability to monitor the flow of people moving across its borders was poor. From the South African perspective, the South African intelligence community remained skeptical of the US. The NIA had accused some members of the Scorpions, in which the US assisted in establishing and training personnel, of spying for foreign governments. The NIA was unhappy about the Scorpions’ alleged working relationship with US-owned Kroll, a risk-management company with perceived strong ties to former CIA operatives. There were additional concerns about the Scorpions’ apparent close and regular liaisons with the US embassy in Pretoria and the fact that they employ foreign nationals like Ms De Gabrielle, an American who was assigned by the US Department of Justice and its local counterpart to advise the South African National Prosecuting Authority on financial and commercial prosecutions. Other alleged links included connections to Chinese, German and French foreign intelligence services.
Like their response to the 9/11 attacks, South Africa does exercise caution when it comes to supporting US action. In an interview with Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg, he maintained that South Africa’s position could be summed up by examining South Africa’s then Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils’s speech at the Brenthurst Foundation meeting on international terrorism in Southern Africa in January 2007. Kasrils says in the section regarding lessons to be drawn:
First, we clearly need to continue to strengthen the capacity of our intelligence and law enforcement bodies. We need to know our societies well enough to predict threats and act against them. We need to be able to deal with those who wish to use our countries as a safe haven by making it difficult for them to travel, obtain documentation, support and finance.
Then in his fourth lesson Kasrils states:
Fourth, there is a need to avoid destroying the rule of law or eroding international conventions. This must be fundamental. We lose everything, including the moral high ground, if we sacrifice basic principles of human rights. It is hard to explain to Muslim communities why a particular individual was denied a visa seemingly because of his name or religious persuasion.
Kasrils continues by mentioning the specific withdrawal of the visa of the South African academic Adam Habib and his family, including his 11-year-old son, by the US, which caused an outcry in South Africa. Prior to 2006, Professor Adam Habib, a South African citizen, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg and a critic of US policies, traveled to the US with ease. Habib lived in the US for years while pursuing his PhD, but in October 2006 the US government “prudentially” revoked his visa. Habib’s lawyer, Melissa Goodman of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), asked the question of what had changed since 2003 (his last visit to the US) and October 2006?
Goodman went to court to challenge his exclusion on behalf of the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights—all organizations that have invited Habib to speak at upcoming events and which have a right under the US Constitution to hear his views. The State Department eventually claimed that Habib was barred because he has “engaged in terrorist activity,” but according to Goodman, they had provided no evidence to support this charge. The ACLU maintained that Habib was excluded not because he has done something wrong, but because of his political views and associations.
“We are party to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 listing suspected terrorists and their sympathizers but any action taken must be based on sound evidence,” Kasrils said in his 2007 speech. By looking at his previously mentioned first and fourth point, it can be deduced that Kasrils was really saying South Africa supports the war against Islamic extremism, but that there is a fine line, which the US crossed with Habib.
It was reported in January 2010 that the US State Department, in the form of an order by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, would no longer bar Adam Habib from entering the US. A State Department spokesman said that should Mr. Habib apply for a visa again, he “will not be found inadmissible on the basis of the facts that led to denials when they last applied.”
South African diplomat Fadl Nacerodien conveyed a similar tone to the Habib “fine line” argument when interviewed by the author; South Africa supports the war, but that the two countries differ on the definition of terrorism. Nacerodien elaborated further on South Africa’s perception by recalling the frightening statistics of more than 5,000 people injured in Nairobi alone at a result of the 1998 embassy bombings. Of the dozens dead, most were Africans and not Americans. This is something that South Africa does not want to happen in their country, according to Nacerodien.
South Africa’s foreign policy principles also stipulate that the country must promote security and protect its citizens. South Africa does feel because of a Middle Eastern foreign policy that is critical of the US and the West in general (i.e., Palestine and the Iraq War) that it is somewhat sheltered from the wrath of Islamic extremists.
With that viewpoint in mind and recalling PAGADs bombings in the late 1990’s, South Africa has had this fear of agitating their own small Muslim community. We saw this on January 5, 2002, when Nelson Mandela, in his private capacity apologized to Muslim leaders for his “vociferous and unqualified support” to the US led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. South Africa’s Muslim population was originally angered by Mandela’s and President Bush’s joint press conference given in November 2001 where Mandela expressed his support. Another example, according to Kurt Shillinger, was upon the arrest of Aswat in connection to the London bombings. The South African, British, and US governments were at odds over how to handle him. South Africa was disinclined to arrest him out of fear of agitating its own large Muslim community.
Outsiders proclaim that South Africa has not been attacked since 9/11 due to terrorists using South Africa as a base and a transit point. They assert that it would be unwise for a terrorist organization to attack a country they perceive as a safe haven with the necessary support infrastructures. The Associated Press’s London office quoted unnamed British “security officials” in 2009 as saying South Africa had become a new base for terrorist activity. This served as one of many reasons why the UK decided to change the immigration law that now requires South Africans to obtain visas before entering the UK.
US-South Africa cooperation and the future
Some instances of cooperation were discussed in the previous two sections. This included the FBI assisting in the training of the Scorpions and joint investigations into extremists connected to PAGAD and al-Qaeda. However, there have been other incidents since the ANC formally came to power in 1994 that more clearly show the cooperative nature of the relationship despite both countries numerous concerns. One of the earliest examples occurred in 1998 when SAPS apprehended Khalfan Khamis Mohamed in relation to the US embassy bombings. South African police were first to question him followed by two FBI agents and Assistant US Attorney General Ken Karas. He was then illegally spirited from South Africa to the US where he appeared in America’s courts.
In a later court ruling in May 2001, the South Africa Constitutional Court stated their authorities acted illegally when they extradited Mohamed due to his role in the bombings. “The handing over of Mohamed to the United States Government agents for removal by them to the United States was unlawful,” the Court said in its official judgment. “The immigration authorities failed to give any value to Mohamed’s right to life, his right to have his human dignity respected and protected and his right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment,” it said. Despite the ruling, it was reported in 2007 that Mohamed was still sitting in a super maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, serving a life sentence without parole.
Aziz Pahad was questioned about Mohamed’s release to the US. He said Mohamed had been “deported” by South Africa to the US after cooperation with the FBI. When asked about the Constitutional Court judgment that found that Mohamed had been handed over illegally to the US and its implications if US terror suspects were arrested in South Africa, Pahad said: “We cannot violate our constitutional positions.” 
South Africa was also very cooperative with the FBI during the investigation into the 9/11 attacks. Their authorities assisted their US counterparts in investigating a high number of leads. It was announced in the media days after the attacks that Pahad confirmed none of the 40,000 leads followed up by US investigators had led to South Africa. Pahad also explained in October 2002 that the war on terrorism put additional demands on the Department of Foreign Affairs and had changed the focus of its work. He said his country was fast-tracking a new counter-terrorism law, which would probably be passed in 2003. This new legislation would bring together various anti-terrorist measures into one law.
South African President Thabo Mbeki signed a proclamation the following month that stipulated The Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorism and Related Activities Act – known as the anti-terrorism law – would come into effect in May 2005. The new Act brought South Africa fully in line with UN and African Union (AU) terrorism conventions. In particular, it created a general offense of terrorism, and offenses relating to terrorist activities, such as recruiting, assistance to commit terrorist activities, and facilitating terrorism. However, the Act excludes from the definition of “terrorist activity” actions in pursuance of a liberation struggle in accordance with principles of UN and AU Charters.
Perhaps the clearest indicator of South Africa’s role in the US led war against Islamic extremism is the events that surfaced at the same time of the passing of the terrorism law. Reports indicated that the South African government was directly implicated in “rendition,” a now famous practice whereby foreign nationals accused of terrorist involvement are kidnapped and sent overseas to be interrogated, often tortured, and sometimes even disappear. The US has often used rendition and journalists have documented European governments either allowing CIA agents to carry out kidnappings or permitting CIA-operated airplanes to land en route to secret facilities in Eastern Europe or countries such as Afghanistan and Egypt.
In November 2005, South African newspapers such as The Star and the Mail and Guardian published reports suggesting that the South African authorities may have cooperated with the American and British governments and their intelligence agencies in the rendition of Pakistani citizen, Khalid Rashid, who was arrested in 2004 at his home in the town of Estcourt in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province for alleged involvement in terrorist activities. At the time, Rashid had not been seen since his arrest on 31 October 2005.
O’Keeffe writes that the register at the Cullinan (northwest of Pretoria) police station confirms that Rashid and another man by the name of Jeebhai were held there. It notes that police and South African Department of Home Affairs officials took Rashid out of his cell on at least nine occasions. Rashid was signed out for deportation twice, once on 06 November and then again the following day. Home Affairs claims Rashid was deported to Pakistan on 06 November, less than a week after his arrest. However, according to his family, Rashid never arrived in Pakistan. Moreover, the department was unable to give the flight number, the name of the airline, or the name of the person who met him on arrival in Pakistan.
In April 2007, Rashid reappeared before the “Federal Review Board” in the Supreme Court Building in Islamabad. Amnesty International was concerned for Rashid’s well being after nearly 18-months of being in detention with no communication. The international NGO had raised its concerns about this case with the South African Government in 2006, which appeared to have breached its obligations under Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture by participating in the enforced disappearance of and exposing Rashid to the risk of torture. Rashid’s family and lawyers had accused South African authorities of arranging his removal to Pakistan under the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. South Africa repeatedly denied the charge saying Rashid was deported “under special circumstances” and flown to Pakistan where he was formally handed over to officials.
Pahad said on numerous occasions, in reference to America’s rendition policy, that rendition goes against South Africa’s Constitution. Since the South African Constitutional Court ruled in 2001 that Mohamed’s removal to the US was unlawful, Pahad and others became increasing vocal against the US rendition policy. South Africa was also concerned about aspects of the war against Islamic extremism such as Guantanamo Bay. However, the fact of the matter is South Africa cooperated with the US, as they let Rashid board the jet and be transported out of the country.
The author questioned both members of both the DFA and the US embassy on the matter of Rashid. The DFA refused to comment and the US government official simply said in a joking manner, “Come on, don’t ask that because you know I can’t answer. It’s classified.”
After the Rashid incident, there appeared to be a lack of news regarding South Africa’s assistance with the US. This changed in February 2011, when US, UK and South African authorities arrested a 64-year-old South African businessman after a six-month collaborative investigation. “The suspect repeatedly, through letters and e-mails, demanded an amount of US$4 million (R29m) in exchange for not deploying a biological agent within the borders of the United Kingdom,” South African Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa stated. There was also a similar threat against the US. US embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the arrest was “a long time coming” and that there was “close collaboration between the SA police service, American law enforcement based at the embassy as well as Scotland Yard.” It was originally assumed that this businessman was an Islamic extremist, but it was later reported that the individual was in fact a white South African farmer by the name of Brian Roach.
It is not known what role the CIA had in this operation, or even if Langley is now collaborating with the South African intelligence community on a regular basis. However, it is known that the both President’s Obama and Zuma have dealt with their fair share of Islamic extremist related events such as the attempted terrorist attack on an airplane in route to Detroit on Christmas day in late 2009 and security threats prior to the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa in June/July 2010. With the latter, the American government went as far as issuing a travel alert for South Africa until the end of July 2010 saying: “There is a heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa in the near future.” This came after Iraqi authorities arrested an alleged al Qaeda supporter who claimed he was planning attacks on the Dutch and Danish teams, although the threat was later dismissed. In the end, no incidents occurred at the World Cup, which included during a visit to South Africa by US Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden’s visit and continued bilateral meetings between both countries will prove crucial in the war against Islamic extremism. Another vital element will be Obama and Zuma’s similar views on the war and other international security related matters. The two met on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April 2010, and according to the Readout of the President’s Meeting with President Zuma, the leaders took the opportunity to talk about important security issues, including efforts to combat terrorism. Obama praised South Africa the following day at the Summit itself for voluntarily dismantling its nuclear weapons program. “I wanted to publicly compliment President Zuma and his administration for the leadership they have shown,” Obama said. “And we are looking forward toward the possibility of them helping to guide other countries down a similar direction of non-proliferation.”
President Obama, who rejected the phrase “war on terror” early in his presidency, sees terrorism and the war against Islamic extremism as only one of America’s many vital tests over the coming years. The killing of Osama bin Laden was obviously a big victory, but the war is by no means over. Obama did state at the Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 that “the single biggest threat to US security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.” He continued: “If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating,” he stated. Obama regards South Africa as having a “special standing in being a moral leader on this issue.” Moreover, President Zuma and his commitment to the war against nuclear terrorism, brought South Africa “greater security and prosperity” in the international community, according to Ben Rhodes, a White House official who talked to reporters at the summit.
The comradely shown at the Nuclear Summit between the two presidents, as well as the withdrawal of the ban on Professor Adam Habib and the six month joint investigation in 2011 are clear indicators that the US and South Africa will be looking to cooperate more in this particular field in the near future. However, Zuma feels that it is “important for countries to pool their resources and work together through strengthened multilateral institutions to combat all forms of organized transnational crime, including terrorism.” The use of multilateral institutions is where the two countries may differ.
South Africa has long been involved in the international war against Islamic extremism. The collaboration with America in this regard has been an important component of the US-South African relationship in the post apartheid era. Although there were disagreements at times, such as the FBI hijacking of South African biological stock, over the Dockrats at the UN, and the length of time it took the US State Department to remove the ANC from its terror list, there were more instances of positive collaboration. This included: investigations into, the US Embassy bombing suspects, and 9/11; the assistance and cooperation in setting up the Scorpions; the illegal spiriting of Rashid and the collaborative effort to obtain the 64 year old South African businessman for threats of terrorism in 2011.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki maintained that terrorism must not be allowed to flourish. Mbeki wrote after 9/11: “As we share the grief of the bereaved and seek to comfort those who are maimed, this we must say, that as a civilized people we condemn this act of terrorism unreservedly and will do everything we can, to ensure that our own society does not give birth to the ugly and repugnant formations that committed willful mass murder in New York and Washington.” President Zuma undoubtedly shares a similar line of thought to Mbeki and has committed South Africa in the war against extremists, especially when it comes to plans to obtain any type of nuclear material.
Nevertheless, South Africa must be careful not to upset its local Muslim community and ANC constitutes who still see the US as a global bully only fighting because of its own interests. South Africa also does not want terrorist attacks to take place inside their own borders. More cooperation between the US and South Africa in the war against Islamic extremism is likely. However, it is also likely that this cooperation will be kept much quieter than during the Mbeki-Bush administrations. This silence will not only be beneficial for both countries, but for the overall war as well.
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 An Islamic oriented militant group based in Cape Town, South Africa formed in 1996.
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