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Why are bomb scares targeting Woolworths?

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Out of the eight bomb scares that hit Durban last week, four of them were at Woolworths stores, which begs these questions: Is the company being being targeted, and is it because of a more sinister agenda?
by TALI FEINBERG | Jul 19, 2018

Disgruntled employees, customers or activists could be behind the scares, says Ryan Cummings, director of Signal Risk, an Africa-focused political and security risk-management consultancy. He pointed out that the history of Woolworths being targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the past, for importing Israeli goods, cannot be discounted. In 2014, a pig’s head was placed in a Cape Town Woolworths store in an act of intimidation.

Cummings thinks the bombs scares would be affecting Woolworths, as customers exercise heightened caution by possibly choosing not to go to their stores in Durban – but at the same time, they could avoid shopping centres as a whole.

This describes the catch-22 nature of the situation: that the random nature of the bomb threats means the public don’t know where they will appear next, but at the same time, the possibility that Woolworths is being targeted adds to the confusion.

Jasmine Opperman, director for the Terrorism, Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), says: “The problem is that there are no arrests to determine intent or motive. That this could be related to an anti-Jewish agenda is one possibility that we cannot ignore.” On the other hand, she is not getting answers, even from reliable contacts, which demonstrates how tight-lipped the Hawks are being regarding the investigation.

When asked why answers are so scarce, Opperman feels that the investigators “do not know [who is behind the attacks], or they may have names of suspects but are still investigating, just like with the Ottawa mosque attack” – referring to an attack which took place in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, saw one person killed and two injured. A device planted on the scene was similar to the ones found over the last week.

“With the need to show success to the public, I do not see them holding back once they are apprehended. By keeping quiet, public fear and mistrust are just heightened.”

She points out that in the Thulsie case (where twins Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie were apprehended on plans to commit acts of terror at Jewish institutions), “we see the State struggling to put evidence of terrorism to the court, so they could be taking extra precaution, if indeed these are terrorism cases. I do think they are playing it safe with investigations.”

Willem Els, senior training co-ordinator at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, agrees: “The police are very silent on the matter and seem not to want to take the public into their confidence with reassuring information,” he told the SA Jewish Report.

“The situation is panning out to be less and less of a probable terrorist attack. For one, no organisation has accepted responsibility, as they normally do. It seems more and more like an extortion racket to me. Once again, due to the lack of any more information, we can only speculate. The challenge is that it remains a threat to the general public and shop owners as these devices may kill innocent people should they be activated.”

The string of bomb scares began on 7 July, the day of the Vodacom Durban July horseracing event, when two devices were found under cars in the Berea area. Two incendiary devices caused fires in Woolworths stores, which were evacuated, and there was a further scare at a Spar.

Two hoaxes at Woolworths stores – the latest on Thursday – added to the fear and confusion that Durban is experiencing. On Saturday, the Kenilworth Centre in Cape Town was evacuated due to a bomb scare.

Jevon Greenblatt of the Community Security Organisation (CSO) says that the SA Police Service is looking at the threats being linked to extortion, “but I honestly cannot say if this is true or just a way to keep everyone calm. I would say that people should be vigilant wherever they go.”

In response to a series of questions from the SA Jewish Report, Woolworths spokesperson Kirsten Hewett said: “We can assure the public that we take these incidents in KwaZulu-Natal extremely seriously and we are doing all that we can to ensure the safety of our people and our customers. 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.

“We continue to work closely with the relevant authorities, who are providing input and guidance.”

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