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Concern mounts as terror accused appear in court

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JACQUELINE HERBST

The suspects are accused of murder, attempted murder, arson, violation of the Pocdatara Act (The Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities) and kidnapping. The kidnapping charge was added when a person was found chained and malnourished in a dungeon at one of the houses where the arrests were made two weeks ago.

CSO Gauteng Director Jevon Greenblatt said the mosque attack earlier this year and the recent spate of bomb scares in Durban were “acts of terrorism”, which is why this is being taken so seriously.

Greenblatt believes that radicals are busy testing the South African system, experimenting and training for the next step in a terror campaign.

“At best, these acts of terrorism are motivated by extortion as part of a bigger plan to fund the growth of Islam, for example, by buying guns and hosting training camps. At worst, it serves to create an environment of distrust, hatred, fear, and chaos, where radicals can thrive.”

“It is a known fact that the Jewish community is one of the primary targets of the radical Islam movement. To it, there is no difference between blowing up a mosque and blowing up a shul,” Greenblatt said.

He encouraged the Jewish community to be vigilant, to ensure that establishments are adequately secured, and to ingrain security into our day-to-day lives.

“We cannot wait for disaster to strike before we act. The harder the target, the more likely the enemy is to strike somewhere else,” Greenblatt said.

Charges against seven of the accused were provisionally dropped on Monday on condition that buccal (DNA) samples are taken because they were not identified in a line up. In addition, a 38-year-old father of four, Goolam Haffejee, was released on R100 000 bail as he wasn’t pointed out in the line up, and isn’t believed to be a flight risk.

The remaining suspects have been remanded in custody until the bail hearing continues on Monday, 22 October. They are Farhad Hoomer, Thabit Said, Mohammed Akbar, Ahmad Haffejee, Amani Mayan, Ndikumana Shabani Umande, Omar Iddy, Abubakar Ali, Adil Sobrun, and Abasi Juma.

There are those who believe that the bomb scares and mosque attack was the work of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). However, there has been no evidence to date to support these claims, and Greenblatt cautions against labelling the incidents as ISIS-related.

“These acts of terror have more to do with a philosophy and a mindset that will outlast the name ‘ISIS’ or any other terrorist organisation. Whether these acts are carried out by ISIS members or individual sectarian groups, it still furthers the cause of radical Islam,” he said.

Greenblatt is unhappy with the fact that the mosque attack suspects have been granted bail, and that charges against some of them have been dropped.

Referring to a recent incident, in which Fatima Patel was released after she was arrested with the Thulsie twins, and then later again in connection with the Saunders murders (when an elderly British-South African couple were killed by ISIS-linked terrorists earlier this year), he said he did not believe the government had the resources to monitor the suspects’ activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Terrorism should not be treated the same way as criminality under law,” Greenblatt said.

Rejecting suggestions that ISIS might be involved, Signal Risk Director Ryan Cummings said he believed the Durban incidents were not linked to ISIS or any other terrorist organisation, but formed part of an ideological struggle carried out by minority sects.

“There are those who come back to South Africa after receiving Islamic education in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, who then reject the moderate Islamic ideologies practiced in South Africa, and take action to radicalise the country. A lot of these acts are committed by individuals and small groups who have become self-radicalised,” he said.

Willem Els, Senior Training Co-ordinator at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, said that “police are keeping information very close to their chests. The fact that they added charges on the contravention of the Pocdatara Act raises a red flag. If the objective was extortion, why the terror-related charges? We do not have an idea who the suspects are, and can speculate about that as well. Indications are that they might be radicals with connections to Islam.

“The fact that the mosque in Verulam was attacked, and it seems that the attack was linked to the so-called Woolworths bomb-scare incidents, leads us to assume that it is not just a Shia/Sunni feud we are dealing with, and that there might be additional objectives. Were they trying to raise funds to further their radical objectives? If so, I doubt if attacking fellow Muslims is going to be their only objective,” he says.

Els believes that if the case is linked to the Saunders murders, it would make sense that this is just another fundraising exercise of an ISIS cell that might have the objective of attacking a variety of targets in South Africa, including Jewish interests.

“I do think that this might have been an isolated cell that worked and focused on the greater Durban area. If they were part of a larger structure within South Africa or internationally, it will become clear during the court case,” he said.

“The Jewish community will always be vulnerable. Was it going to be a target of this group? We will find that out as soon as the state starts to explain its case in court. The very fact that the SAPS kept all procedures in camera is an indication that we might be surprised or shocked with the intentions and/or planned operations by this group,” he said.

Hawks’ Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said he was delighted that the seven suspects whose charges were conditionally dropped would be approached as state witnesses.

“It will have a huge impact, and I think it will make this case very strong,” he said.

A group of about 30 protesters representing the Imam Hussain Mosque where the attack took place picketed outside the court, wielding placards bearing messages like, “No place for religious extremism in South Africa”, and “No bail for terrorists”. Ruwaida Shaik, the Deputy Chairperson of Imam Hussain Mosque, said they did not want the suspects to be granted bail as it would send the wrong message to other terrorist groups.

“We are protesting because if these suspects get off easily, this is something that will happen again. These perpetrators should not be granted bail. If we had our way, we would request that the death penalty be imposed on them,” said Shaik.

She believes the Shia Imam Hussain mosque was attacked because its attackers adhered to a different school of thought. Shaik would not confirm that she believed the attack was carried out by radical Sunni Muslims, but some of her fellow protesters nodded when the question was asked. – with additional reporting by Tali Feinberg.

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