Cape Town - The first possible link between South Africa and the Islamic State – the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), a radical jihadi group that has conquered parts of Syria and Iraq – has emerged with a man claiming to be from South Africa appearing in one of the group’s propaganda videos.
The 20-minute video, “Eid Greetings from the Land of Khilafah”, was uploaded to social media sites to coincide with Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that celebrates the breaking of the Ramadaan fast.
It shows “foreign” fighters claiming to be from the US, Belgium and South Africa urging their countrymen to travel to the caliphate.
The caliphate – an Islamic state that is supposed to encompass all Muslims – was declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in late June.
Before announcing the caliphate, al-Baghdadi was the leader of Isis.
“I am your brother Shuiab from South Africa,” says the man in the video, holding a young child on his hip. His name is given as Abu Shuiab al-Afriki.
“I am here in the Khilafah, and as you can see there is a big party going on. Today is Eid, and I wish a very happy Eid to all the brothers from all the world.
“But my strong wish is that I can see you all here… there is no place in the world at the moment where you will have such safety.”
The Weekend Argus asked police and the government if any South African citizens had joined the Islamic State or its forerunner, Isis.
Both forwarded queries to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, which had not replied by publication time on Friday.
But indications in the three minutes of the video where Abu Shuiab al-Afriki speaks are that, if he is a South African citizen as he claims, he may not be a native-born English speaker as he makes a number of grammatical errors and does not have a South African accent.
A number of South African Islamic organisations have strongly criticised the Islamic State in recent days, accusing it of human rights violations in Iraq and Syria.
“The acts of these extremists, acting in the name of Islam, is both morally and religiously repugnant and should be condemned by all peace- and justice-loving people,” wrote Claremont Main Road Masjid imam Dr Rashied Omar and the masjid’s chairman, Yusuf Abrahams, in a joint letter to the press on Friday.
The KwaZulu-Natal Jamiatal Ulama, in a statement this week, said the Islamic State had no legitimacy.
“The Isis is headed by a person identified as Abu Bakr Baghdadi, who is calling for allegiance as the new khalifa in the ummah.
“As far as we know, this Abu Bakr Baghdadi is not known or recognised by any group of ulama in the Arab world. Many leading ulama have issued statements rejecting his claims to khilafat,” the organisation’s Rafiek Mohamed said.
This week UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said he was “profoundly dismayed” by the “barbaric acts” carried out by Islamic State fighters, which he said included accounts of summary executions, boys forcibly taken from their homes to fight, and girls abducted or trafficked as sex slaves.
The extent of the involvement of foreign fighters with the Islamic State has been investigated by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), based at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.
In its most detailed report to date, ICSR said 11 000 foreign fighters had travelled to Syria to fight there. About 20 percent of these were estimated to have joined the radical groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Isis.
“Based on more than 1 500 sources, we estimate that up to 11 000 individuals from 74 nations have become opposition fighters in Syria,” the group said in the report, which was published before the Islamic State came into being.
According to the research, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not figured significantly in sending fighters to Syria. The majority of foreign fighters came from countries such as France, Germany, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
However, it stated that tracking fighters from these nations was easier.
The group, which tracks foreign fighters through contacts, social media and government reports, said Twitter and Facebook had become important recruiting tools. “A large number of foreign fighters receive their information about the conflict not from the official channels provided by their fighting groups, but through so-called disseminators. (These are) unaffiliated but broadly sympathetic individuals who can sometimes appear to offer moral and intellectual support to jihadist opposition groups.
“(Twitter) has given rise to so-called disseminator accounts which spread information from the battlefield in real time, publishing links to new videos and official statements, spreading photographs of battles, equipment and ‘martyrs’.”
There have been some Tweets about Isis and the Islamic State from Twitter accounts from South Africa, but the number is negligible compared with other countries.
One user tweeted an apparent Isis media account, asking how to join from Cape Town. Another posted a picture of 12 cupcakes with small Isis flags in “support from South Africa to the Islamic State”.
The ICSR said all social media posting must be viewed with the utmost scepticism as “fake social media profiles by ‘wannabe’ jihadis” were common.
The KwaZulu-Natal Jamiatal Ulama has warned South Africans to be careful.
“Reliable reports have established that attempts are being made to recruit young men in South Africa to join Isis in Iraq,” it said, adding that “Muslims should be aware of falling prey to these deceptive claims of Khilafat when it is driven by western intelligence political agendas”.