South Africa does not face any imminent threat of a terror attack, the government has said, after both the United States and the United Kingdom released alerts that South Africa could suffer an ISIL-related attack during the month of Ramadan.
David Mahlobo, state security minister, said in a statement on Monday that there was “no immediate danger posed by the alert [and that they have] liaised with the Americans on the concerns they have and these engagements will continue as part of the ongoing work.”
Mahlobo’s statement comes after the UK issued a statement on Monday, cautioning its citizens of possible attacks on shopping malls in the country.
“There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners such as shopping areas in Johannesburg and Cape Town,” the British government said in a statement posted on its website.
On Saturday the US issued a statement warning of “near-term attacks against places where US citizens congregate in South Africa”.
“This information comes against the backdrop of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) public call for its adherents to carry out terrorist attacks globally during the upcoming month of Ramadan.” Niles Cole, a state department spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.
He added that the statement on their website was not a travel warning or travel alert, but instead a “security message” for its citizens.
But Nae’em Jeenah, director of the Africa Middle East Centre (AMEC) in Johannesburg, rubbished the advisory.
He said that in his assessment, the US government issued those alerts when they wanted to send a certain message to the South African government […] because they are seen as too soft on terrorism.”
The US government has previously issued a security advisory in 2009, and in September 2015.
“The last time they issued something similar was when the government was preparing to allow South Africans to return home after joining ISIL in Raqqa.
The US government issued a warning of possible terror attacks about five days or before this happened to send a signal to the government that it was too soft on those returnees and the issue of terrorism,” Jeenah said.
But other analysts such as Anton du Plessis, executive director of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in Johannesburg, said that while South Africa was not a frontline target for ISIL, such “warnings ought to be taken seriously”.
“ISIL has changed the game, and it’s not completely clear what is a target any more,” he told Al Jazeera.
Likewise, Jasmine Opperman, director at the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium‚ told the ENCA news channel that an attack was conceivable because of the development of alleged terror cells in the country.
The South African State Security agency has previously said they were aware of various forms of recruitment taking place across the country. Jeenah from AMEC said that ISIL’s interest in South Africa was largely limited to securing financial support and the recruitment of human resources.
In May 2015, an Al Jazeera investigation found that at least 23 South African citizens, including eight families, had relocated to ISIL-held territory since June 2014.
At least three South Africans have died while fighting in Syria but most had traveled as non-combatants. In September, 11 people, including three children, had returned to the country.