South Africa Examines Possible Extremist Threat – Jeff Builta

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has had a difficult transition to popular democracy. It has one of the highest crime rates per capita in the world, and corruption is thought to be rampant among politicians and police. Adding to these problems, law enforcement officials announced this August that they believe militant extremist Islamic cells have been established throughout the country and may eventually pose a risk to national security. The announcement came after a secret intelligence report on the matter was leaked and reprinted in the Johannesburg daily Beeld.

According to the report, 11 “extremist fundamentalist” organizations are known to have received training in Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Lebanon, and/or Pakistan. The report also claims that some of these cells are heavily armed, and most are concentrated in the Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth areas. The report expressed concern with at least five suspected covert cells of foreign-trained militants around Cape Town and Durban.

A group from Western Cape province of South Africa called Qibla was singled out in the report as the most extreme of the Islamic fundamentalist cells operating in the country. According to the government, members have been trained in Libya and Pakistan, and some members have fought with Hizbollah in Lebanon. Its leader, Achmed Cassiem, is a former political prisoner during the apartheid era. Cassiem is also leader of the Islamic Unity Convention (IUC), an umbrella group of 254 Muslim groups from around the nation.

Ironically, the same month the report was leaked to the media, violence featuring Muslim citizens was highlighted in South Africa by the acts of an Islamic community-protection, anti-crime group called People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD). During a PAGAD march protesting organized crime, drugs, and prostitution, PAGAD members trampled, shot and burned Rashaad Staggie, a reputed drug baron and co-leader of the Hard Livings gang in Cape Flats outside Cape Town. The killing occurred in front of police and television cameras, receiving international airplay. At the march, PAGAD publicly declared a “holy war” against gangsters in Cape Flats.

A few days after the incident, PAGAD coordinator Moegamat Nadthmie Edries was arrested on charges of sedition and murder. Army troops were called into the Cape Town region after continuing threats and periodic gunfights between police, PAGAD supporters, and gangs. During one particularly raucous melee involving 5,000 PAGAD supporters and police, nine people were injured and tensions become so high that politicians called for a state of emergency in the region. Mosques are guarded with armored personnel carriers and South Africa’s Justice Minister Dullah Omar moved out of his Cape Flats home for his family’s protection.

PAGAD, formed early this year, claims it is not an exclusively Islamic movement, although no non-Moslem members are known to exist and the group is known to maintain contacts throughout the Moslem world. The group readily admits to receiving financial assistance from unnamed foreign donors. Local media report that PAGAD has received training in Libya, that the group maintains a paramilitary training base in Western Cape province and is thought to maintain regular contact with Qibla.

One PAGAD leader, Muhammad Ali Parker, known as “the Phantom,” has publicly advocated guerrilla warfare in the group’s fight against crime. Parker claims to maintain regular contact and support from HAMAS and Hizbollah, although he says these are personal connections having nothing to do with his organization. The leak of the intelligence report has raised considerable concern on behalf of Muslims in South Africa, who are worried that Islam is being hijacked for violent political reasons beyond fighting gangsters. On the other hand, some Muslims have expressed concern that they are being demonized by police exaggerating the threat posed by such groups in order to cover law enforcement failures.

While recent events have suggested that such an extremist threat may exist, it is also likely the threat is being over emphasized in comparison with the dangers posed by everyday street crime in South Africa. Moe Shaik, a national intelligence official, was quoted in a recent Washington Post article as claiming the allegations that a international Islamic extremist network exist in South Africa were baseless.


source: - 1996 -Vol# 12 - Issue# 6/

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