Cops probe Durban ‘bomb’ incidents
Durban - There are similarities between the explosive device found at the Woolworths store in the Gateway Mall and the one found at the Imam Hussain mosque in Ottawa in March.
The startling revelation was made by Willem Els, training co-ordinator for counter terrorism at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), following bomb scares at two separate Woolworths outlets in Durban last week.
On Saturday the Woolworths branch at the Gateway Mall had to be evacuated after an explosive device was found.
It was defused by the SAPS bomb squad.
Prior to that on Thursday two devices were detonated, causing a fire at the store in Gateway as well as at the store in the Pavilion .
Police on Sunday confirmed all three incidents, saying that a case in terms of the Explosives Act had been opened.
Els, a former police officer who was with the bomb squad for 23 years, said from looking at the picture of the device he could tell that it was made by a skilled person.
“It looks technically advanced - there might not be a detonator in it, but it might detonate due to the confinement of the content. We do not know what the content is, but it remains a possibility,” Els said.
While it was difficult to say whether the explosive device incidents at Woolworths stores were linked to ter- rorism, he believed that they could be linked to extortion.
“We will recall that something similar happened with Pick * Pay where some of the canned products were found to have been poisoned. While the objectives of the Woolworths incidents are still not clear, it could be that those responsible want Woolworths to pay for something.”
On Saturday two explosive devices were found in the vicinity of Gladys Mazibuko and Avondale roads, not far from Greyville Racecourse, where the Vodacom Durban July was held. Police told The Mercury that these didn’t detonate.
In a statement last night, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu condemned the placing of the devices in public places.
“We condemn the placing of bombs and bomb like devices in public places whose only intention is to plant fear and insecurity among citizens. There appears to be attempts to scare the public from places of commerce and entertainment, but also inadvertently to undermine our province as a place of domestic and international tourism,” he said.
Mchunu called for calm.
“We call for calm during this time and request that government be given the space to conduct the necessary and urgent investigations into this matter,” he said.
Morningside councillor Martin Meyer said while police continued with their investigation, residents should not panic.
“There is no indication at this time whether this is linked to other incidents that have been happening around Durban this past week. Residents should, as always, be vigilant, and if they see anything suspicious, they must contact police immediately.”
Els said that before terrorists used their devices, they had a trial run where these were set off.
“As South Africa we should be concerned about terrorism because of what is happening in our country. It presents a conducive environment and situation for terrorist activities. Our police have lost the capacity to gather useful intelligence in relation to terrorism.”
In an act that shocked the Muslim community in May, one man succumbed to his injuries after his throat was slit when the Imam Hussein Mosque in Ottawa came under attack. Four days after the bloody attack and just hours after Police Minister Bheki Cele had visited the scene, an explosive device was found under a pulpit in the mosque.
While Els did not think South Africa was a target when it came to terrorism, he said the country’s current policing situation could allow for terror groups to operate.
“The SAPS has lost most of its capacity even though there are still those members who work very hard, and are trying to make a difference. In general there is a lack of capacity.”
Woolworths spokesperson Kirsten Hewett on Sunday said both stores at the two shopping malls were open and operating as normal.
“Due to the sensitivity of the investigation we are unable to divulge the additional protection and detection measures we have put in place in our stores.”