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Western embassies repeat US warning of possible terror attack in Sandton

Western embassies repeat US warning of possible terror attack in Sandton
Alexandra and Sandton. (Photo: Quartz Africa)

The South African government has downplayed the US embassy’s warning of a possible terror attack in Sandton on Saturday but other Western embassies are taking the threat more seriously and have repeated the warnings.

The British, Canadian and Australian high commissions and the French and German embassies in Pretoria all relayed to their citizens the US alert of Wednesday that: “The US government has received information that terrorists may be planning to conduct an attack targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 29 October 2022.

There is no further information regarding the timing, method, or target of the potential attack. The US Embassy has advised staff to avoid crowds of people and other large public gatherings in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg during the weekend of 29-30 October 2022.”  

The other embassies relayed the US alert to their citizens rather than independently verifying it and posting their own. 

The Community Security Organisation, which provides security to the Jewish community, relayed the US alert to its community, saying that  although it did not have any information that the Jewish community was the intended target, it could not rule this out.  

“Every indication is that this threat should not be taken lightly,” it said and added it was “taking the necessary steps to ensure our community is secure”.  

Security experts quoted by news media mostly believe the target of an attack, if one was in fact planned, could be a Gay Pride event scheduled in Sandton on Saturday, though others have speculated that a show by the Jewish comedian Nik Rabinowitz or even the Ethiopian peace talks taking place at an unspecified location in or around Pretoria could be targeted.

“There are also many other events taking place in Sandton this weekend,” a law enforcement official said. 

Pretoria has issued confusing signals about the threat, first seeming to dismiss it, and later complaining that the US had not informed them about it or even suggesting that the US alert had upset South Africa’s own investigations into the alleged terror plot. 

Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said on Wednesday that “we don’t have evidence of a threat”.

But President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday: “It is quite unfortunate the US issued that type of warning without having any type of discussion with us. Any form of alert will come from the government of the Republic of South Africa and it is unfortunate that another government should issue such a threat as to send panic amongst our people.”   

Ramaphosa was responding to a question during a joint press conference with the visiting prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez. 

He added that Pretoria was “working around the clock to verify and to look very closely at this message that came from the United States,” according to AFP. 

TimesLIVE quoted anonymous Hawks sources as saying the US announcement had blown a six-week investigation of a terrorist plot which had been on the verge of arresting nine terrorists.  

A law enforcement source basically corroborated this to Daily Maverick

This source agreed with Ramaphosa that it was unfortunate that the US had disclosed the plot prematurely but added that the Americans had probably done so because they did not have faith in the ability of South Africa’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to properly investigate and to pre-empt such an attack.  

“The problem with our intelligence agencies is that they don’t speak to each other,” the source said, adding that ideology was also hampering the ability of the agencies to properly perceive and address the terrorist threat to South Africa.  

“People think that Mozambique is far away. It’s not far away. It’s right here on our doorstep,” the source said, referring to the threat by the Islamic State movement to attack South Africa for deploying troops in July 2021 to fight the Islamic State jihadist insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. The source said the US had not consulted with South Africa before issuing the alert.  

Willem Els from the Institute for Security Studies said the fact that other embassies had repeated the US terror alert and that sources in the Hawks had been quoted by TimesLIVE saying the warning had sabotaged their imminent arrest of the suspects gave credibility to the original US warning.  

“So I believe this threat is credible. The Americans wouldn’t go to this extent of publishing this, because they know what the implications might be. The President says he’s not been informed. Now I don’t believe the Americans would go ahead with something like this if there were not a very good conversation between them and the intelligence services and everybody involved. 

“The fact that Ramaphosa has not been informed you can lay at the feet of his own people, because they were informed. Everyone’s lambasting the Americans. But they didn’t go and hang this on the big bell with all the major news agencies.  

“They just published a warning to their own citizens to be careful. And there’s not a lot of time. This is the day after tomorrow. And they have an obligation and a duty to warn their people if they get any information. So it puts them in a difficult situation as well.  

“Maybe the response of the South Africans is to downgrade this to avoid panic,” he added.  

News24 has quoted anonymous sources as saying the intelligence agencies did pick up warnings of a possible attack but for some reason did not pass it up the chain of command. This might explain why Ramaphosa did not seem to be informed. 

In the past, SA intelligence officials have dismissed US terror alerts on the grounds that they believe the US is trying to suck them into its war against terror. 

A similar row blew up between the US embassy and the SA government in 2016 when the embassy issued an alert that it had received information that radical Islamic terrorist groups were planning to attack places where US citizens congregated — like shopping malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town — ahead of the month of Ramadan, which was about to start. 

The then state security minister, David Mahlobo, downplayed that alert, saying “there is no immediate danger” and Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela clashed with US ambassador Patrick Gaspard on Twitter, accusing the embassy of causing panic. 

In March, the US slapped sanctions on four individuals in South Africa for various activities in support of Islamic State (IS), including financing its affiliates elsewhere in Africa. It said one of the four, Farhad Hoomer, was the leader of a Durban-based IS cell that “raised funds through kidnap-for-ransom operations and extortion”.

At the time, some law enforcement officials also complained that the US announcement had alerted Hoomer and the other three alleged IS members and had blown their own investigations. 

Other government officials said the US had felt compelled to act because it did not believe South Africa was in fact likely to take action against the four men. 

A law enforcement official told Daily Maverick on Thursday that South Africa had missed several opportunities to prosecute terrorism, and had they done so, the country might not now be facing imminent greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    As always, stuff head in sand. SA gov’t never fails to disappoint.

  • Nick Griffon says:

    You have to laugh at the notion that the US blew SA intelligence investigation. What, like they investigated the July looting? They had no clue. The US knew this and warned their citizens. Simple as that.
    Occam’s razor

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    As our lot didn’t respond to info in July last year why would they respond to a threat now?

    • P B M .. says:

      Precisely. IMHO, the SA Intelligence Service were not contacted by the US first because they knew they would be rebuked just like the last time when they issued an alert about a possible ISIS attack in SA for sending SA Defense force troops to Mozambique to assist in Cabo Delgado last year.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Agree 100%…I was just asking myself the same question!

  • Michael Clark says:

    I remember the then state security minister, David Mahlobo, downplayed that alert, saying “there is no immediate danger” Really this is the same guy who’s best friend is Wei Chelse who works in a massage parlour,owned by his friend Guang a Rhino horn smuggler!

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    so we have our prostitute politicians pointing fingers at everyone else and whining but not one thought for the people of South Africa insofar as indicating how they are preparing to handle the threat. Pray that nothing happens because if it does it will be the end of the ANC!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Sounds to me like Russia is involved somewhere in this! Ok,call me paranoid but this seems like a false flag operation somehow!

    • Graeme de Villiers says:

      Smacks of a red herring so that any large gatherings elsewhere in the country this weekend (Durban for instance) are lulled into a false sense of ‘security’?
      But I do love the denials of any suce eventuality, insults hurled at the Americans and then finally the accusations of blowing the current investigations! Hilarious in its normal, hapless ANC way

  • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

    I work in the tourism sector & one thing has become very apparent over the last year. European & US tourists are under the impression that SA is an unsafe destination & this is backed up by press reports about SA crime statistics & actual criminal acts. These are intangible facts. When you walk around the Cape Town CBD, there is the intangible certainty that you will be accosted day & night by very persistent street people, very often drug addicts. The Cape Town city administration is helpless in the face of the lately exponentially increasing number of street people. It may be an international phenomenon, but DAMMIT, we have three eminent universities populated by very bright people (or are they just bullshitters?) in greater Cape Town. These academics have lot to say about whichever way the city council turns to solve/mitigate the problem, but there is no constructive advice. There should be cooperation between the city council & these universities to figure out a humane solution. The same goes for the taxi/gang warfare which inevitably is spilling over into all areas. Forget about the ANC government. Let these pathetic individuals worry about factionional slates & tenders. The ANC has absolutely zero to contribute. SA is killing itself.

  • Confucious Says says:

    South Africa- definitely

    Inteligence- hahahahahahahahahahaha

    Services- hahahahahaha

    Thank you for the Western intel… at least someone is paying attention.

  • Wendy Taylor says:

    In all seriousness, when are American authorities going to stop meddling in the sovereign affairs of other countries? Have they not yet figured out – after all the global chaos they have contributed towards, with their dysfunctionally hegemonic foreign policies – the cardinal lesson of minding their own business? They are not a world power any longer… maybe that’s where the rub is, as we are currently witnessing the death throes of a declining empire. How intriguing, yet not surprising that their henchmen – U.K., Australia, Canada, France, Germany are called in to back them up. Of course, most of these imperialists are still grabbing a piece of the African pie as we speak, with their insidious divide & conquer mentality. And here they may very well be attempting to do so again! Russia & China may not be innocent by far, but it’s time someone pushed back against The Empire. Things are not what they seem.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      Thank you Wendy – there was me thinking neo-Stalinism was all but dead, and then you come along with this diatribe on the Imperialist West and the dysfunctional American hegemonic power bloc, all of them grabbing their piece of the African pie in a neo-colonial sweep across Africa. Viva Russia and China, bastions of democracy both!

    • Johann Olivier says:

      I know. I know. The US is no longer a world power. Or the number 1 world power. They may have the world’s reserve currency, 11 aircraft carrier strike groups, each more powerful than most countries. Oh, and their air FORCES. The USAF has more aircraft than ALL others combined. Yes, that includes Russia and China. And the next point may be really striking to the naysayers, The number 2 air force in the world? The USAA. That’s right. The US Army Airforce. Finally, at number 3, we have Russia (although, with the Ukraine debacle, this may no longer be true). To put the cap on it, the USN is fourth. I’m no US booster. I’m simply looking at the facts. As for being the number one economic power (aside from the US dollar being the reserve currency), it will remain so as long as China is not free. In fact, everything Xi is doing, reinforces US hegemony. A simple question is the test: would you rather buy a property in the US or China? Good luck with ‘pushing back’ against ‘the Empire’. At least for now.

  • Gavin Brown says:

    Just breaking – it’s Sunday and nothing happened so far! Any diplomat would understand that this was a decision made in Washington after top level consideration at the State Dept. It is an open signal of distrust toward our “intelligence” community together with a whiff of “your position on Ukraine offends us”

  • Johann Olivier says:

    Everything about South Africa inspires confidence and certainty that they would handle any threat in an efficient and proper manner. NOT.

  • Lynn Crossley says:

    Perhaps, because of the alerts – re possible terror actions – by the American Embassy et al, (1) SA authorities did step up security, and (2) “terror” plottings were put on hold ??

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