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Elite cops are investigating claims that terror group al-Shabaab is behind the murders of 14 Christians in the Western Cape.
The killings occurred within a 10-month period across the province, from Mossel Bay to Philippi, Macassar and Paarl.
All of the victims were Ethiopian Christians living here and the murders were initially thought to be random xenophobic attacks on foreigners.
The latest of these is a shop owner who was gunned down in Philippi last Friday.
But police are now investigating new evidence that the killings have been carried out by Somalia-based Al-Shabaab.
It is the first time there has been any suggestion that Al-Shabaab – which has links to Al-Qaeda – is operating in South Africa.
Authorities were made aware of the link to the Cape killings when a Christian bishop, also a former police inspector, noticed a distinct pattern in the murders.
The bishop – who does not want to be identified out of fear that he may be targeted – has sent three letters to President Jacob Zuma highlighting his concerns.
In one letter – seen by the Daily Voice – the bishop states: “Since September, seven of my Ethiopian Community have been shot, of which two have died and five seriously wounded… these are in fact acts of members of Al-Shabaab.
“Al Qaeda affiliates operating undercover by Somalis pretending to be normal refugees… the motive appears to be to try and drive out Ethiopian shop owners.”
A response from the President Jacob Zuma’s office addressed to the bishop advised him to take his findings to the “private secretary to the Minister of Police… the department placed to engage with you”.
In an interview with the Daily Voice, the bishop reveals he is currently in close contact with a special task force intelligence officer who has been assigned to the case.
The bishop – who is the head of a 4 000-strong congregation – fears more of his flock will be targeted by the terrorists.
“We want authorities to do something because we know this is the work of al-Shabaab,” he says.
“If nothing is done, the Ethiopian population will be depleted.
“The presidency’s office said I should apply to the Minister of Police.
“After that a special task force police officer was assigned.
“As a bishop, I feel responsible for my congregation.”
The bishop says he dug deeper and discovered hitmen were being hired to carry out the killings.
“A crime has a pattern and when I pieced it together I saw that it was only Ethiopian Christians being targeted... they are in fact holy martyrs who have died because they are Christians,” the bishop adds.
“It became more complicated, that local hitmen were being paid, you can pay a hitman R400.
“The immigration authority needs to investigate whether these Somalis are here as refugees or terrorists, al-Shabaab.”
The bishop says he held a three-hour meeting with MEC for Community Safety Dan Plato in March where he outlined his disturbing findings.
Plato claimed he could not recall details from the meeting because he is constantly inundated with complaints.
“I meet so many people,” Plato says.
But he warned people should be wary about calling attacks on foreigners “xenophobic” when it sometimes is the result of criminal activity or “infighting between foreigners”.
Meanwhile, Father Mike Williams of the Anglican Catholic Church also reveals members of his congregation have been targeted by gunmen with connections to Muslim extremists.
“In July, we have lost seven members of our church,” he says.
“In Langa, I took police to the scene where [a member] was shot in the leg inside his Spaza shop.
“He was badly injured when these guys stormed inside.
“Another member of our congregation, who is a father, was shot but the bullet only hit (his) shirt. It was a miracle.
“Father Wondimu Shanko of our congregation has since fled out of South Africa because of what is happening.
“We had an incident in 2010 where a man, Abera Feyissa, lost his right leg in an attack. He was lucky to survive.”
Al-Shabaab is a terror group that controls most of the Southern and Central parts of Somalia, where it has imposed its own strict version of Islamic law.
But the terror group – which has links to al Qaeda – has been attempting to extend its influence across Africa.
Al-Shabaab describes itself as waging jihad (holy war) against the “enemies of Islam”.
And it is believed members have reportedly intimidated, kidnapped and killed many foreign aid workers.
Just this month, it is believed Islamist militants attacked two churches in eastern Kenya, killing 17 people and wounding 60 more.
A group of masked men threw grenades into the African Inland Church in Garissa, close to the Somali border, and opened fire.
The terror attacks in Kenya began last September in response to a government clamp down on al-Shabaab.
It is believed al-Shabaab and al Qaeda are trying to expand their sphere of influence across the Sahara and Sahel desert..
In 2008, al-Shabaab killed 30 people in a series of bombings in Somaliland.
And in July 2010, two al-Shabaab suicide bombers wearing vests stuffed with explosives surrounded a crowd watching soccer in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
A total of 76 people died.
*This article was published in the Daily Voice