Should South Africa take heed to recent warnings of a terrorist attack?

The United States embassy in South Africa on Tuesday, warned security forces that extremists might target American citizens/interests in the country. A statement issued by the embassy says; “information that extremists may be targeting US interests in South Africa, to possibly include US government facilities and other facilities identifiable with US business interests. There is no additional information as to timing or potential targeting.”

The US Embassy spokesperson, Cynthia Harvey said “When we receive specific, credible, non-counter-able threat information, it is a standard practice worldwide for US embassies and consulates to issue Security and Emergency Messages such as the Security Message issued today by US Embassy Pretoria. The US government, as it does in any investigation into terrorist threats against American interests around the world, will cooperate with SA authorities.”

Prior to the 2013 Westgate Mall attack which resulted in the death of about 60 people, the United Nations gave warnings, which were ignored by Kenyan authorities. According to Reuters, police and the intelligence services received information of impending attacks on at least three occasions in the year leading up to the assault. Ndung’u Gethenji, Chairman of the Defense and Foreign Relations Committee, who investigated the assault, discovered this.

A week before the Al-shabab attack on Garissa University College in Kenya which claimed about 150 lives, authorities from both the United States and the United Kingdom gave warnings. CNN’s Kenya correspondent was recorded stating “They are saying that it’s not safe for people to travel in the areas of the coast province of Kenya that is from Mombasa all the way up to Garissa, just 150 kilometres from Somalia, a border town which is quite porous. So there have been these alerts, the UK issued an alert on Friday saying the area is not safe.” Although Kenyan authorities claimed to put measures in place, their efforts were insufficient to prevent the attack.

Following the alert which was issued by the United States Embassy, David Mahlobo, the South African State Security Minister, in a quick response, told Talk Radio 702, that there was no immediate danger. Mahlobo said, “the information that they have shared with us and the individuals concerned that we are following…in terms of our own threat analysis, we had to do a threat analysis, who is the source and what is happening, and came to the conclusion that there is no immediate danger.”

David Ormand outlines four strategies which the United Kingdom has (somewhat succesfully) used to counter threat alerts: prevention, pursuit, protection and preparation. These measures are a guiding force towards preventative counterterrorism, rather than reactive efforts which Kenya, Nigeria and several other nations in Subsaharan Africa are currently struggling to stay ahead of. Perhaps, even at the risk of perceived instability, South Africa should take its time before assuring its citizens and the rest of the world, that there is no reason to worry.

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