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The ease with which terror suspects are able to settle in SA confirms what Osama bin Laden thought of this country, says Moshoeshoe Monare.
Johannesburg - In 1998, a terrorist managed to dupe South African authorities into granting him a resident permit after participating in the bombing of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
His name is Khalfan Khamis Mohamed.
According to Constitutional Court documents: “Mohamed obtained a visitor’s visa from the South African High Commission in Dar es Salaam the day before the explosions and left Tanzania by road the day after. Travelling via Mozambique to South Africa he entered the country on 16 August 1998 and travelled to Cape Town where he obtained employment – and later lodgings – with (his comrade) Mr Abdurahman Dalvie (“Dalvie”).
“In due course he applied for asylum – under his assumed name and on spurious grounds – and was afforded enhanced temporary residence status. He was issued with a temporary residence permit that had to be renewed periodically pending the decision on his application for asylum.”
The simultaneous bombing in the Dar es Salaam and Nairobi US embassies left 223 people dead.
The South African government and its intelligence agencies, which failed to detect Mohamed until after the bombing, arrested him and handed him over to the FBI in a covert rendition that was in 2001 severely slammed by the Constitutional Court.
The court found that the South African government violated Mohamed’s human rights by handing him over to the US, where he was facing capital punishment.
As we report elsewhere in this newspaper, a Briton, Samantha Lewthwaite, obtained a South African passport and apparently participated in the planning of a siege in Kenya that left scores dead.
The ease with which Mohamed and Lewthwaite obtained South African documents and were able to settle in the country confirms what the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden thought of this country.
Bin Laden, according to the declassified documents found at his Pakistani hideout, is reported to have said that South Africa was a suitable location to attack Americans because “it is located outside the Islamic Maghreb”.
Nigerian Henry Okah, who was nabbed in Johannesburg a day after the 2010 bombings, was found guilty for masterminding two car bombings that killed dozens in Lagos. The arrest of Mohamed and Okah – after the fact – could be attributed to good police work but poor intelligence gathering.
But the fact that we know of only a few cases of terror suspects may also mean good intelligence work by our spies. Addressing the country’s ambassadors earlier this year, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele admitted that al-Shabaab members were roaming the streets of Gauteng.
President Jacob Zuma needs to look at the whole security system, the same way the Americans overhauled theirs after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The intelligence and police agencies are yet to recover from factional battles in the ANC. Cwele once told me he had managed to stabilise the intelligence leadership following a vacuum created by internal political differences.
He might argue that we can sleep peacefully at night without worrying about terror attacks – thanks to his spies – but the presence of terrorists on South African soil could become too strong to uproot.
* Moshoeshoe Monare is editor of the Sunday Independent.