UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SOUTH AFRICA: Government denies al-Qaeda threat
JOHANNESBURG, 5 Aug 2004 (IRIN) - Pakistani authorities are "processing" a South African government request to access two of its nationals who have reportedly confessed to planning terror attacks in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria.
Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan told IRIN on Thursday that the investigations into the activities of the two men were at a "preliminary" stage, but refused to provide any further details.
The pair - Feroze Abubakar Ganchi and Zubair Ismail - were arrested after a gun battle last week in the eastern Pakistani city of Gujrat, along with alleged Tanzanian al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.
South African media reported that Feroze - a doctor from Johannesburg, and Zubair, a religious-studies student in Pretoria - had confessed to a "terror plot" to bomb the Johannesburg stock exchange, parliament in Cape Town and the US embassy in Pretoria, among other targets.
The South African government has been unable to gain access to the men, but on Wednesday responded angrily to the reports by denying any iminent threat, and called on the media to exercise restraint.
"We have no information that any particular installation in South Africa is targeted by al-Qaeda or any other international terrorist organisation," National Intelligence Agency Director-General Vusi Mavimbela told a press conference.
Anneli Botha, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies, said a link with al-Qaeda was unlikely. Although a small number of young South African militants are believed to have served as mujaheddin in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Kashmir, it was unlikely they would regard South Africa as a target, given the government's support for Palestine and criticism of US policy in the Middle East.
"I would question al-Qaeda's involvement in planning to attack South African interests - it would be counterproductive," she told IRIN. She added that after almost two weeks of detention in Pakistan, admitting involvement in a plot in South Africa could secure the men's deportation, rather than a trial in Pakistan or transfer to Guantanamo Bay.
South African Islam has a reputation for moderation, and support for al-Qaeda was "more an ideology of standing up to the US - more a sense of what they are doing in Iraq is wrong", Botha said.
However, Greg Mills, the director of the South African Institute of International Affairs was quoted by the Star newspaper as saying: "The fact that [South Africa has] a particular view on Palestine or on Iraq, or a big Muslim population, is no guarantee you will not be attacked."
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