JOHANNESBURG: South Africa has by no means been touched by Islamist assaults. Its three-decade-old democracy is stable, and its monetary system is revered.
But consultants say the continent’s most industrialised nation is now a nerve centre for jihadist financing in Africa.
“South Africa is open hunting ground,” Pretoria-based counter-terrorism skilled Jasmine Opperman informed AFP.
Islamist financiers collect cash within the nation and switch it into “the hands of terrorism,” she mentioned, including it was internationally recognised “that we are now a hub”.
It is a stark indictment for a rustic that, aside from the odd alerts issued by the US embassy, hardly registers on the radar of extremist actions worldwide.
But Opperman’s evaluation is extensively shared by analysts throughout Africa, Europe and the USA.
Crimson flags have been first raised final yr when the US authorities levied sanctions on a number of South Africans it accused of belonging to an Islamic State (IS) cell.
The group facilitated the switch of cash to IS branches throughout Africa, in response to Washington.
It “provided technical, financial, or material support to the terrorist group,” the US treasury mentioned in November.
Some analysts have recommended that jihadist financing flourished as a result of South African authorities grew complacent on the lack of seen Islamist exercise.
“I don’t think South Africa realised it. It was the Americans who said, ‘something not okay is going on in your country,'” Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of the Counter-Extremism Venture think-tank, informed AFP.
“The entire government is now put to task,” he mentioned.
One of many clearest indicators one thing was amiss got here in March this yr when the Paris-based Monetary Motion Process Power (FATF), a world illicit money stream watchdog that goals to sort out cash laundering and terrorist financing, positioned South Africa on its “grey list” over gaps in monitoring and stemming unlawful monetary actions.
A cocktail of circumstances, together with a purposeful monetary system, liberties, porous borders, corruption and criminality have made South Africa fertile floor for Islamists to lift funds, consultants say.
Numerous the cash comes from organised crime syndicates which increase funds by way of medicine and treasured minerals trafficking in addition to kidnapping for ransom.
Extortion, with using pretend Tinder profiles to lure victims, can be widespread.
Kidnapping instances doubled to 4,000 between July and September final yr, in comparison with the earlier quarter, police statistics present.
“Organised crime itself is rife,” in South Africa, mentioned Opperman.
To keep away from detection, the cash is then transferred to Islamist cells throughout the continent in small remittances that do not increase eyebrows.
Some 6.3 billion rand ($342 million) was wired from South Africa to Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria and Bangladesh by way of cellular cash switch utilizing almost 57,000 unregistered telephone SIM playing cards between 2020 and 2021, in response to an investigation by a South African weekly newspaper, the Sunday Occasions.
The hawala system, an off-the-cuff methodology of fee based mostly on belief that’s far harder to hint than financial institution transfers, can be used to siphon cash away.
Some cash despatched overseas is genuinely geared toward supporting household, and it is unclear simply how a lot jihadists increase.
However consultants consider they’re awash with money, probably making “more money than they need,” Schindler mentioned.
IS inner paperwork seen by consultants present that of the cash raised on the continent, the IS in Somalia retains 50 % whereas 25 % is cut up between cells in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the steadiness going to IS central.
One of many suspects listed by the USA as an IS cell chief is Durban-based Farhad Hoomer, 47.
He was sanctioned final yr for “playing an increasingly central role in facilitating the transfer of funds from the top of the ISIS hierarchy to branches across Africa”.
Hoomer denied being an IS cell chief, telling AFP by telephone from Durban that he “was surprised” by the sanctioning. “I’m waiting for the proof. It’s one year waiting for the proof,” he mentioned.
Hoomer was arrested by South African police in 2018 for allegedly planning to deploy improvised incendiary gadgets close to mosques and retail retailers. Authorities introduced dozens of prices in opposition to him, which have been nevertheless later dropped.
Tore Hamming, a fellow on the Worldwide Centre for the Research of Radicalisation, informed AFP these concerned in jihadist financing have been “pretty well-known extremist figures from South Africa who have been active in the extremist milieu for a good number of years.”
The jihadists capitalise on “open financial structures”, he added.
Martin Ewi, a regional organised crime observatory coordinator with the Pretoria-based Institute for Safety Research, mentioned a variety of people have been at the moment being investigated, with detectives “digging” up instances way back to 2017.
“Terrorists have exploited the country’s democratic nature… to use it as a hub for mobilising financing” and different sources, Ewi informed AFP.
In a current notice the US-based intelligence and safety think-tank Soufan Heart concluded that South Africa has “emerged as a financial hub for ISIS in Africa”, utilizing one other identify for IS.
Cells based mostly within the nation are backing the “operational work” of IS “more widely”, mentioned the Soufan Heart.
These revelations come because the continent is more and more changing into a favoured sanctuary for the jihadist group after the 2019 lack of the “caliphate” following US-led worldwide counter-offensives in each Iraq and Syria.
IS has seen its most hanging rise not too long ago throughout Africa, with a presence within the Sahel area, by way of to Lake Chad, all the way in which to the DR Congo, Mozambique and Somalia.
“In the last five years, Africa itself has become more and more important for ISIS,” mentioned Schindler.
However South Africa’s function in worldwide terrorism dates again greater than a decade, in response to Ryan Cummings, analyst with the Cape City based mostly Sign Danger safety advisory agency.
It has been a “perceived financial hub for extremist groups for quite a while,” he mentioned citing intelligence proof that recommended Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab used South Africa to maneuver funds after the 2013 assault on the Westgate mall in Kenya’s capital.
There are experiences of “an increase of funds… flowing from South Africa” to Mozambique, and the IS affiliate within the DR Congo, mentioned Cummings.
South Africa is now boosting efforts to get off the FATF gray listing.
A number of items of laws have been rushed by way of parliament in current months, notably one on anti-money laundering and combating terrorism financing.
On Could 19, safety minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni informed lawmakers that her workplace, together with different businesses, will “continue to develop and implement… measures to ensure that South Africa’s territory is not used to plan, facilitate or carry out acts of terrorism and acquire, move, store and use funds in support of terrorism”.