SA ‘not an Isis target’, says terror expert
A TERRORISM expert has cautioned South Africans not to link isolated incidents to find a bigger picture.
The executive director of the AfroMiddle East Centre in Johannesburg, Na’eem Jeenah, was among a panel of speakers discussing the possibility of the Islamic State in Syria (Isis) having a presence in SA.
While he ruled out South Africa being an Isis target, he told those who gathered at the Suleman Lockhat Auditorium in Sydenham last Wednesday that one had to assess the finer details before arriving at a conclusion.
Since 2014, a number of South Africans believed to be linked with the terrorist organisation have been detained or arrested.
They included the Thulsie twins, Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee, who were arrested in July 2016 and charged with conspiracy, incitement to commit the crime of terrorism, and conspiring and attempting to commit acts associated with terrorist activities.
Sayfydeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 38, and his wife, Fatima Patel, 27, alleged to also have Isis links, have been charged with murdering British botanist Rod Saunders, 74, and his wife Rachel, 64.
More recently, the case of 11 men from Durban, allegedly linked to an attack at the Iman Hussain Mosque in Ottawa in May and to various incendiary devices planted in Durban, has raised the Isis question. All these matters are before court. “The objective of Isis is to target an area, take it, hold it and move on to another target nearby. If you look at their pattern, they operate in Iraq and Syria.
“However, they will go to countries that declare war on it, like in Paris, Brussels and Berlin. They target within the area of their operation.
“I do not believe South Africa is a target and it has never been a target. It’s the attitude of people to create hysteria that is causing people to believe we are a target.
“If you look at all the incidents reported, there has been no Isis claim. If you look at the incidents in Paris and Brussels, they claimed it. The instructions were given from above to carry out the bombing.
“In South Africa there has been no instruction from above. Isis works with instructions and I don’t think they would change their tactic to kill a few Shia Muslims.”
Jeenah added that the recent attacks and subsequent arrests were more “lone wolf” or “copycat” attacks that could be considered a misrepresentation of people’s views of Islam.
He told attendees, that while a number of people had left the country to fight a cause abroad, including Syria, about 80 to 100 of them had returned home. They comprised young men or families. “Upon their return, they are interviewed by State Security before being released into their communities and I’m almost definitely sure they are under surveillance.”
Others, who went as fighters, he added, were either dead or in captivity.
Azad Seedat, the founder and chairperson at the Ottawa mosque, the scene of the murder, arson and a bomb scare, said an interfaith dialogue should be convened with the different sects of Muslims.
“Muslims must stop calling other sects of Muslims non-Muslim,” he advised.
“Youngsters want to be more involved in their religion and want to express themselves for the religion, and instead of serving the people (which they should do), they waste time killing men, women and children.
“You cannot do that and say you are doing jihad – if you want to show your devotion to Islam, rather help people than kill people.” Jihad is the Arabic word meaning “holy war”.
Fuzail Soofie, of the Westville Soofie Mosque, said social media influenced its users to experiment with extremist activities.
“As much as we call for the factions in Islam to unite, we also have to be cautious. We cannot magnify the issue. We host various talks on extremism and radicalism at the mosques. However, those who need to get the message aren’t willing to listen.
“They don’t want to listen to the pulpit of the mosque, but rather listen via social media on YouTube and other international sites that could lead them astray.”
Retired State Security head of training, Mike Sarjoo, said that there was little dialogue by government on issues like terrorism.
“Its not that it doesn’t exist, it does. There is a five-year plan that the National Intelligence Estimates conducts each year that focuses on internal issues (like cash heists), external issues (outside factors) and imported issues (brought into the country by groupings or individuals).
“There are trained individuals who collect and analyse all the factors and they are aware of it. But government needs to include South Africans in dialogue. There is no need to hide (the facts).”
Sarjoo said there had been cases where South Africans had been intercepted before leaving SA to join Isis abroad.
From left: Na’eem Jeenah, Fuzail Soofie of the Westville Soofie Mosque, former State Security employee Mike Sarjoo, and political analyst Imraan Buccas.
Members of the community, including the author of the cookbook IndianDelights, Zuleikha Mayat, attended theevent.