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Bomb scares terrorise Durban

  • CSO
A series of bomb threats across Durban over the past week has left its population – including a small and ageing Jewish community – living in fear. Several explosive devices have been found in public spaces, and while no one has yet claimed responsibility for the string of scares, Jevon Greenblatt, director of the Community Security Organisation (CSO), says these incidents show a “deeply concerning shift towards radicalism”, no matter what the reason behind them.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jul 12, 2018

“The aim is to create fear, which is terrorism in itself. This may be a way to test the system – to see if it is possible to plant devices in shopping centres, and then to ramp up the process to a more serious attack at a later stage. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box: if something like this is carried out, it allows the next extremist to do the same,” Greenblatt told the SA Jewish Report.

Furthermore, the latest incidents may be linked to a terrorist attack that was carried out on a mosque in Verulam, just outside Durban, in May, as well as to the kidnapping and killing of an elderly British-South African couple in the same area in February by Islamic State operatives, which led the UK government to issue a terror warning for travellers visiting South Africa.

According to Willem Els, senior training co-ordinator at the Pretoria-headquartered Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the device found at the Woolworths Gateway store on Saturday bears similarities to a device found at the Verulam mosque after the terrorist attack there.

After the attack on the mosque, Maulana Aftab Haider‚ the national co-ordinator of the Ahlul Bait Foundation of South Africa, said: “This has all the hallmarks of the Islamic State style of operation.”

And, when the suspects in the murder of the British couple were found, an Islamic State flag was flying at their site.

“If the more recent explosive devices in Durban are found to originate from the same source as that used in the Verulam attack, the outcome of the Hawks’ investigation into the mosque attack takes on a heightened resonance,” wrote Rebecca Davis in the Daily Maverick.

“There are indications that the events of the past months are being taken seriously at the highest levels. One such sign was the visit paid by President Cyril Ramaphosa to the Verulam mosque on Sunday, almost two months after the mosque was attacked... Making time for the mosque visit is a possible indication of the importance being given to the issue,” she added.

Els emphasises that at the moment, authorities have very little information as no one has taken responsibility for the bomb scares. “It could be terrorism, extortion or personal grudges. The fact that Woolworths was targeted led to speculation that this could be a continuation of anti-Jewish sentiments, after a pig’s head was placed in a Woolworths store in Cape Town in 2014, but this is just a possibility at this stage,” he said.

“The entire population of KwaZulu-Natal is feeling unnerved and anxious about the discovery of these devices,” said Mary Kluk, president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and herself a Durban resident, after five suspicious devices were found in stores and public places around Durban over the past few days.

On Saturday evening, a device was found under two cars in the Berea area on the day of the Vodacom Durban July horserace. Last Wednesday and Thursday, devices were found at Woolworths stores at Gateway and Westville Pavilion malls.

In a statement on Friday, Woolworths said: “We can confirm that we found an explosive device in our Westville Pavilion store late on Wednesday night and our Gateway store on Thursday. The device in the Pavilion store caused a fire in a section of our menswear department, which was extinguished quickly and no one was injured. As soon as we were made aware of a potential explosive device in our Gateway store, we immediately evacuated the store as a precautionary measure in order to ensure the safety of our people and our customers.”

On Monday evening, Durban’s Bomb Disposal Unit detonated, in a controlled environment, a bomb-like device that was found at a Spar in Austerville in Wentworth. According to reports, a 10-year-old boy arrived at the supermarket and gave the manager a brown envelope which contained a 9mm bullet and a handwritten letter. The letter instructed that he put money inside a bag and leave the bag outside the supermarket, otherwise a bomb would explode. It further warned that he should not contact the police.

The boy who delivered that letter said it was given to him by an unknown male, and he was told to give it to the manager of the supermarket. The manager, accompanied by the boy, then took the envelope personally to the police station. The police attended and cordoned off the area. The Bomb Disposal Unit arrived and with the use of a dog, conducted an explosives search inside the supermarket, where a black plastic packet was found at the entrance near the tills.

On Sunday, police said that a case in terms of the Explosives Act had been opened. However, they remain tight-lipped about whether the threats are linked to terrorism or if the suspects have been apprehended. On Monday, the Hawks took over the investigation.

CSO’s Greenblatt explained that the devices found in the mosque and in the stores were meant to cause a fire, while the ones found near the Durban July were explosive devices meant to cause injuries. He said that both are typical of what is found online when teaching extremists to build such devices. He assured the community that CSO is protecting all installations and encouraged everyone to remain alert.

In a series of tweets, Jasmine Opperman, Southern Africa director for the Terrorism, Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), wrote that the broader context was of primary concern: “The use of extremist behaviour to draw attention – the question is what the next step is: actual killing of people? A culture of violence in drawing attention to an issue or grievance can only feed extremist agendas. Durban has a history of extremist activities. With the mosque attack in Verulam still left unanswered, do we have the intelligence and capabilities to investigate and draw this to a conclusion so as to counter fear?” she asked.

“Extremist behaviour is again showing South Africa’s vulnerability to violent behaviour. A person does not have to be associated to a group or to international terror groups to access knowledge on how to make a bomb or engage in extremist behaviour,” she concluded.

Message from CSO regarding bomb scares in Durban:

Although we do not have any clear information about the perpetrators or their motive, we are closely monitoring the situation and awaiting feedback from the police investigation.

The CSO urges you to be fully alert for suspicious bags, packages, people or vehicles in and around your facilities and in public places. If you see any such object, do not touch it. You and others must move as far away from the bag or package as possible to a safe place. Report it to the CSO, local security and the police immediately.

It is critical to carry out an effective search of your facilities and the immediate surroundings before any services, events or routine activities. Please also ensure that no unauthorised access can be gained to your communal facilities at any given time.

Remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to the CSO Control Room immediately on 0861 800 018.

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