US Terror Alert: Why South Africa is ideal for ISIS


UPDATE: The UK, Australia and U.S.A all have now issued terror alerts for South Africa

On Saturday afternoon the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa issued a warning to US citizens about the threat of a possible ISIS attack at shopping malls in South Africa. This is the second such terror alert in less than a year issued to U.S. citizens residing in or travelling to South Africa.

“The U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa informs U.S. citizens that the U.S. Government has received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where U.S. citizens congregate in South Africa‚ such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town.”

The U.S Government does not haphazardly issue these kind of statements. They are issued after careful consideration, threat analysis and source verification. When the threat in non-counterable they issue these alerts. The S.A Government normally quickly rubbishes these claims and today was no different after the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation spokesman, Clayson Monyela, and U.S Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, had an exchange of words on Twitter:

"The last advisory by @USEmbassySA to US citizens in SA warning of an "imminent attack " proved to be a false alarm. I see there's another 1" - @ClaysonMonyela

"The price of freedom is eternal diligence, and through Grace are we all made safe. The only false note is arrogance" - @patrickgaspard

So, is South Africa potentially a ground for ISIS, or any other extremist group, to launch an attack against the West? Of course it is.

Here is why:

Europe is on high alert and countries such and France, Belgium and Germany are carrying out weekly raids against terror cells plotting future attacks. It is getting potentially too "hot" for sleeper cells to activate attacks in Europe as their authorities are clamping down on any potential terror cells plotting an attack.

Terrorists are opportunistic. They thrive in corrupt countries where they can get access to identity documents and get through borders without any questions. In South Africa, it is easy to buy a false passport, identity document or asylum papers under a false name. Terrorist exploit these weaknesses in the system. South Africa has over 3000km of coastline which gives potential terrorists ample entry points to enter the country. The borders between Mozambique and Zimbabwe are either poorly policed or the fences are broken, which gives terrorist another entry into the country other than entering through any of the major ports or airports.

Tourist attractions and shopping malls, like the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town or Sandton City in Johannesburg, are frequented by Westerners. It is a hive of activity and the security at these attractions are not geared to counter a possible terror attack. 

South Africa has been frequented by terror groups or individuals linked to terror groups in the past:

  • In 1999 a person was arrested by the FBI in Cape Town for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya & Tanzania
  • The 7/7 bombers in the UK got their orders to launch their attack from a terror cell in Johannesburg
  • In 2010 a plot was foiled during the FIFA Soccer World Cup by Al-Shabab terrorists after U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted a call made to Somalia. 
  • The "White Widow", responsible for organising the Kenya Westgate Mall attacks, was travelling on a South Africa passport
  • The so-called "Abbottabad documents" seized during the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden and which were declassified, stated that " You may find it suitable to target Americans in South Africa, because it is located outside the Islamic Maghreb. Also, South Africa is not covered by the brothers who are located outside that region."

The South African Government must intensify its counter-terrorism actions, which may include putting in place rapid reaction capabilities and changing border control and surveillance methods.

Taking all into consideration and understanding that the U.S. Government are not in the game of "crying wolf" perhaps these terror alerts should be taken more seriously. 


Barry Oberholzer

Born in Houston, Texas, a former professional rugby player and current CrossFit and Ironman athlete, Barry  is the founder of TerrorMate app and is a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert. Formerly Barry served as a confidential informant for Department of Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence and HM Revenue & Customs Intelligence in the United Kingdom. 

One of his most impactful successes was in his identification of Iranian sanction busting syndicates who smuggled US manufactured aircraft and parts to Iran which led to the arrests of several prominent international businessmen. He also had numerous successes in major illicit cigarette seizures in Europe.