SA links in Kenya attack

2013-09-24 00:00

UNCONFIRMED Al-Shabaab tweets yesterday afternoon listed Pretoria as one of the rendezvous areas for the sixth and seventh mujahideen groups that were involved in the Nairobi terrorist attack.

One of the tweets indicated that final preparations were being made for the next attack.

Twitter yesterday closed down the address from which the tweets were sent, which made it impossible to confirm if they were indeed sent by Al-Shabaab terrorists.

Other cities mentioned as rendezvous areas were Kampala and Addis Ababa.

Kenya’s media yesterday reported that some of the terrorists in the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi were arrested at the city’s airport, which raised fears that other terrorists had escaped from Kenya’s authorities.

It is not known to which destinations the arrested suspects were flying. The names of the attackers on the unconfirmed tweets suggest the terrorists were of British, American, Swedish, Finnish, Syrian, Kenyan and Somali origin.

The tweets correlate with warnings from local terrorist experts that South Africa must increase its vigilance against terror attacks.

Professor Hussein Solomon, a terrorist expert and lecturer in political science at the University of the Free State, said it has been known for a long time that the Al-Shabaab mujahideen movement had cells in South Africa.

Solomon last year visited Kenya to study Al-Shabaab’s operations and organisation.

He said the so-called White Widow, a British woman described as one of Al-Shabaab’s chief recruiters in East Africa and possibly involved in planning the Nairobi attack, was a frequent visitor to South Africa.

Sam Lewthwaite, the so-called White Widow, used at least one forged South African passport in the name of Natalie Faye Webb, a picture of which was published in several British newspapers and on the Internet yesterday.

Solomon said Lewthwaite was one of Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda’s most ruthless and most valuable members in Africa.

Lewthwaite was married to Jermaine Lindsay, a British Muslim who took part in the 2005 suicide bombing at the King’s Cross underground station in London.

She has since become involved in training several female cells to organise suicide attacks in Africa.

Solomon said one eye-witness account from the weekend’s Nairobi attack placed a white woman among the attackers.

Solomon said the terror attack in Nairobi should send a warning to South African authorities, because if Al-Shabaab decided to target a shopping mall in South Africa, there was currently very little that would prevent such an attack from taking place.

Al-Shabaab had earlier said the attack in Kenya was in reprisal for Kenyan soldiers’ involvement in the African Union force in Somalia that is driving Al-Shabaab from the Somali capital Mogadishu. South Africa is also a member of the African Union and indirectly supports the forces in Somalia, but does not offer any direct military support at the moment.

Al-Shabaab also has links to Al-Qaeda.

Solomon said Al-Shabaab has stopped waging conventional war and is instead focusing on terror attacks. South Africa hosts a large contingent of Somalis, including members of Al-Shabaab, who maintain their local networks.

Anneli Botha, a terrorist researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said Al-Shabaab had earlier confirmed to her that South Africa was being used as a base.

Solomon said when Somali immigrants where targeted by xenophobic South Africans in township attacks, many of the immigrants had paid armed Al-Shabaab members to protect them against South Africans.

“The main reason why Al-Shabaab has not yet launched an attack in South Africa, is because South Africa provides a very useful shelter, where they can also easily get forged IDs and passports,” Solomon said.

The first reports of a possible Al-Shabaab attack in SA date back to the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament, when Al-Shabaab reportedly aimed to attack the American soccer team.

Solomon said while the U.S. had dedicated anti-terrorist agencies, South Africa only had the SA Police Service’s organised crime unit, which he described as a joke whose members seemed to be suffering from entrenched corruption.

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