JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Weaknesses in South Africa's police and intelligence agencies could make the country particularly vulnerable to an extremist attack, security experts warned. However, the analysts said they are not aware of an immediate threat.
Concern about militant threats in South Africa increased this month when the U.S. Embassy warned of information indicating "terrorist groups" were planning attacks against upscale shopping malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Islamic State group called for attacks worldwide during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
South Africa downplayed the U.S. warning, saying the information was unreliable and that it is capable of protecting people on its soil.
South African resources for combating militant threats are limited and there is a perception that such attacks only happen elsewhere, Anneli Botha, a consultant on radicalization and terrorism, said Wednesday. South Africa is an economic hub with Western interests that has been spared devastating attacks like those elsewhere in the world.
"I'm not saying an attack is imminent," Botha told the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Southern Africa. She cautioned: "We cannot say that this will never happen to us."
For years, extremists are believed to have used South Africa as a safe haven or potential pool for recruits, including some who have sought to join the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
In 2013, a South African judge convicted Nigerian Henry Okah, arrested in Johannesburg, for bombings in Nigeria. Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian convicted in the United States for the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, was arrested in Cape Town.
Security consultant Nick Piper said South African security shortfalls are evident in the regular armed robberies in shopping areas. Piper described security on the Gautrain, a commuter train that stops at Johannesburg's international airport, as "shoddy."
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