How serious is the Islamic State threat to attack South Africa?
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- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Affected Countries: south-africa;
Whether or not the Islamic State – or any jihadist terror group – represents a serious threat to South Africa has been a contentious topic for some time. The question comes heavily loaded with ideological and political baggage and provokes strong emotions either way.
Over the last few months, the debate has however risen to a different level via the growing assertiveness of Islamic State in the brutal insurgency in Mozambique’s northernmost Cabo Delgado province. Though the precise nature of that insurgency remains hazy, Islamic State has for some months been laying claim to the attacks. The extremists themselves, generally known as Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, have proclaimed allegiance to Islamic State.
The involvement of Islamic State in northern Mozambique seems to be what has eventually jolted the South African government into really taking notice of the insurgency, which started in October 2017 and has killed over 1 400 people.
During a video parliamentary committee meeting in May, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor revealed that her government and Mozambique’s were in discussion about how South Africa could help Maputo fight the insurgency. By that time, the South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group was already heavily involved on the Mozambique government’s side, mostly mounting aerial attacks with light aircraft.
Pandor seems to have let the cat out of the bag. A few weeks later, her defence counterpart Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula provided no details to Parliament about what if anything the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was doing or planning to do, in Mozambique. Speculation flourished, with suggestions that SANDF Special Forces and a maritime reaction squadron were already in or en route to the field.
And then last month Islamic State published an editorial on its al-Naba online bulletin in which it warned, in Arabic, that if South Africa intervened militarily in Cabo Delgado this ‘may result in prompting the soldiers of the Islamic State to open a fighting front inside its borders! – by the permission of God Almighty.’
Then this past weekend South Africa’s intelligence minister Ayanda Dlodlo told News24 that she was taking the Islamic State threat ‘very, very seriously. Threats like that were not idle in themselves. We will not take them as idle threats. We have a responsibility to secure our people.’
Experts at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) also warn that the threat to South Africa is serious. Willem Els, ISS Senior Training Coordinator, said the experiences of the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel suggest it would be unwise to ignore the Islamic State threat, though this was also not the time for public panic.
What is needed said Els, is the restoration of capacity in the intelligence agencies which were severely undermined during the previous administration. Tighter control of the country’s largely porous borders was also important. He suggested that if South Africa did get involved in Cabo Delgado, it should do so only through a regional intervention via the Southern African Development Community (SADC) of the African Union. This would reduce the focus on South Africa.
On 19 May SADC’s politics, defence and security organ met in Harare and gave the greenlight for its members to provide military assistance to Mozambique. However, no specifics of any regional intervention were mentioned.
Martin Ewi, ISS Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa in the ENACT organised crime project, agrees that the Islamic State threat should ‘not be taken lightly’ as the terror group has executed similar threats elsewhere. Ewi said Boko Haram warned Cameroon in 2014 not to join Nigeria and other Lake Chad Basin countries in a war against the terror group. When the government failed to heed the warning, several attacks were carried out in Cameroon.
Kenya offers perhaps the most telling precedent for South Africa. Since it sent troops across the border into Somalia to counter al-Shabaab in 2011, the country has suffered numerous retaliatory attacks on its own soil by the terror group, in which many civilians have died.
Source: ISS Africa