Monday, October 19, 2009

Will the Big Story of 2010 Be a Terrorist Attack on the World Cup Games?

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By Barry Rubin

What will be 2010’s biggest story? Hopefully it won’t be a massive, bloody terror attack on the World Cup, the world’s most popular sporting event, which will be held in South Africa, June 11 to July 11.

The problem is that South Africa has a poor security system, an inefficient government, and a dangerously wishful thinking attitude to the potential problems. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are organizing their qualifying rounds for the big match.

A recent paper published by the International Institute for Islamic Studies asks, “How prepared are our security services in the face of the terrorist threat posed? The answer has to be poorly.”

The reort lists several incidents of terrorists easily entering or operating in South Africa, pointing to the incompetence of the security agencies, their politicization, the fact that they have been used more against critical journalists than violent threats, and the lack of a dedicated inter-agency counter-terrorism unit.

Confidence is not strengthened by the announcement that the new chief of intelligence will be Mohammad (popularly known as “Mo”) Shaik, until recently head of the shady arms’ dealing company involved in the country’s biggest scandal when his brother was indicted for bribing South Africa’s president, his buddy Jacob Zuma, in a corrupt arms’ deal, then let out of prison after serving only two years of a fifteen year term due to supposed ill health. Mo testified on Zuma’s behalf at the trial.

Shaik was made head of the country’s Secret Service because, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele announced, he had handled intelligence for the African National Congress (ANC) during its underground struggle against the apartheid regime. This probably prepares him better to collect material on the current government’s factional or political rivals than radical Islamist terrorist groups. He had also been South Africa’s ambassador to Algeria and had worked in the Foreign Ministry.

Other high officials in the service have more background in questionable business enterprises than with counterterrorist efforts.

To give you a sense of Mr. Shaik’s career, he attended a 2006 ANC conference with, as his bodyguard, a leading underworld figure named Cyril Beeka, a former ANC military figure who was now reportedly one of the country’s leading drug dealers.

This is the man responsible for protecting the World Cup games. At the same time, the security threat is increasing. For example, the U.S. State Department recently closed offices in South Africa after American intelligence reportedly intercepted cell phone conversations from al-Qaida cells in Somalia planning attacks.

Viewing itself as being in revolutionary solidarity with such groups as Hamas and Hizballah, the ANC-led government has been friendly to a number of radical Islamist groups which have been heavily involved in terrorism.

In addition, sources within South Africa report the existence already of small, informal terrorist training camps at isolated farms being run with the knowledge of elements in the government. Of course, South Africa’s leaders don’t think that those trained in such places would carry out operations on their own soil, but they could be proven wrong.

The South African Muslim community organization has responded by denouncing such warnings with two arguments: proclaiming its own loyalty (which is irrelevant since a tiny number of individuals can stage a huge terror attack) and warning that Somali immigrants might be harassed since terrorists have reportedly been coming from that country. Obviously, innocent people should not be targeted but this is hardly an argument for refusing to confront the potential danger.

According to one source, there is some Israeli role in security arrangements and these are being prepared well.

But the point here is that it is better to make the most serious possible effort to ensure the safety of the games rather than to engage in wishful thinking and pay for it later.

There is a very serious danger that through incompetence, infiltration, or other factors, terrorists from al-Qaida or other groups will be heading for South Africa. It’s not because they are such big football fans.

The best way to ensure that a tragedy does not happen is to take the threat seriously and make thorough preparations based on international cooperation to avoid such an outcome.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

Bibliography (Some items only available through subscription)



Peter Fabricus, “2010 terror plot: 'SA not ready'”

Makhudu Sefara and Peter Fabricius “Plot to bomb US buildings, disrupt World Cup,” The Sunday Tribune, October 11, 2009

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