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US Treasury slaps sanctions on four ‘members of Isis cell in South Africa’

US Treasury slaps sanctions on four ‘members of Isis cell in South Africa’
Kashmiri Muslim demonstrators take part in a protest in the downtown area of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, 5 June 2019 with a flag associated with the so-called Islamic State (IS or Isis). (Photo: EPA-EFE / Farooq Khan)

Four Durban men were named by the US Treasury on Monday as allegedly being part of an Isis cell in South Africa. Four companies linked to the men have also been added to US sanctions lists, as part of a US crackdown on the alleged emergence of Africa as a key site of Isis renewal.

In a statement released by the US Treasury on Monday, four “key individuals in Isis’s network in South Africa” have become the latest additions to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) sanctions list.

The four are named as Durban-based businessmen Nufael Akbar, Yunus Mohamad Akbar, Mohamad Akbar and Umar Akbar.

The US Treasury states that the four are “members of an Isis cell operating in South Africa who have provided technical, financial, or material support to the terrorist group”.

The four men are now on the US Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List), which means that all persons and businesses within the US are blocked from doing business with them. Four companies owned or controlled by the men have also been blacklisted: MA Gold Traders, Bailey Holdings, Flexoseal Waterproofing Solutions and HJ Bannister Construction.

A flag associated with the so-called Islamic State (IS or Isis). (Photo: Flickr)

Men are accused of assisting Farhad Hoomer

As usual, the US Treasury has not provided any information as to the nature of the evidence against these individuals. It states, however, that the four men are associates of Farhad Hoomer — another Durban businessman accused by the US of leading an Isis cell.

Hoomer and three others were added to the SDN List in March.

Of the four men named on Monday, the US Treasury alleges that: 

  • Nufael Akbar “collaborated with” and had been “directed by” Hoomer, while playing a “commanding figure in the Durban-based Isis cell”;
  • Yunus Mohamad Akbar “functions as an enforcer and logistical coordinator for the ISIS cell”;
  • Mohamad Akbar is a “Hoomer associate” who was arrested along with Hoomer on terrorism charges in 2018, with the case later dropped for unreasonable delays; and
  • Umar Akbar is a “Hoomer associate”, also arrested with Hoomer in 2018.

Four more South African companies linked to Hoomer have also joined the SDN List: Sultans Construction, Ashiq Jewellers, Ineos Trading and Shaahista Shoes.

The US Treasury has claimed that Hoomer raised money for his Isis cell through kidnapping and extortion, and that he has been in contact with Isis members in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as well as throughout South Africa.

The case which saw Hoomer, Mohamad Akbar, Umar Akbar and nine others arrested in 2018 involved the May 2018 knife attack on a Shi’a mosque — covered in detail by Daily Maverick at the time — and an attempted bombing campaign in Durban two months later.

Hoomer has maintained his innocence throughout, to the point of trying to claim millions in damages from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and police after the case was dropped in 2020.

But an investigation by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), published in March 2022, reported that South African law enforcement was broadly in agreement with the US Treasury view on Hoomer, with one NPA source describing him as “one of the big fish in the [Isis] leadership”.

The GI-TOC investigation suggested that South Africa was “being used as a ‘rear base’ for training, concealment and fundraising for Islamist militants”, with a major concern being that local law enforcement lacks the “technical and specialist capacity to deal with cases of this nature”.


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Sanctions linked to recent Sandton threat?

It is unclear at this stage whether the US Treasury sanctions are linked to the alert released by the US embassy in South Africa last month, warning of a potential terror attack in Sandton on 29 October.

In the end, no such action happened — although it is impossible to say whether the US alert may have had a preventative effect.

With rumours flying after the terror alert’s release, the finger was pointed by some social media users at Hoomer. He was quick to clarify to the Sunday Tribune that he was in Morocco visiting family at the time.

It is evident that the US is increasingly concerned about what its Treasury statement termed “the emerging importance of [South Africa] for funds transfers from Isis leadership to Isis affiliates across Africa”.

This was flagged in a UN Security Council report released in July 2022, which stated that a “Monitoring Team” had detected a number of transactions of more than $1-million being channelled through South Africa by Isis leadership to affiliates in Africa. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    How was Homer allowed to fly if he was under such heavy suspicion? Will these now publicly known ISIS operatives be allowed to fly again? I certainly wouldn’t want to be in an aircraft with them. Given the incapacity of SA state security, thank heavens the US are watching SA’s backs, fronts and sides. But is this how we want to live? Viva, ANC&Isis, Viva!

  • A.K.A. Fred says:

    American intelligence and decisive action against individuals in South African without any similar intelligence or action from South African agencies highlights the incapability of the South African government. The failure is just stunning. South Africa’s impending FATF greylisting of is precisely a result of this incapability. The article should have exposed the failure of the South African state more vigorously and called out ministers and security structures for not being able to identify and deal with threats in their own back yard.

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