US officials summoned to explain terror threat

Govt has summoned the US ambassador to explain the circumstances surrounding the issuing of a terror alert.

FILE: The City of Johannesburg, with Ellis Park Stadium on the left and the Johannesburg Stadium on the right. Picture: Aki Anastasiou/EWN.

PRETORIA - In a strong show of diplomatic displeasure, the South African government has summoned the US ambassador to the International Relations Department, to explain the circumstances surrounding the issuing of a terror alert.

The department, together with the State Security Agency (SSA) released a joint statement yesterday in which it accused the Americans of trying to undermine this country's counter-terrorism efforts.

To register its displeasure, it has served a démarche on the embassy.

The embassy has responded to the statement, saying that there is no change to the status of the threat warning issued on Saturday.

The department's Clayson Monyela says the US embassy's source lacked credibility.

"Alerts of those nature have the unintended consequences of causing panic and we have a responsibility to ensure that the information that we rely on, at the very least, has to be credible."

He insists South Africa has good relations with America.

"We've taken the action to call in the US embassy to come and discuss this matter further so that we compare notes, but also express our displeasure in the manner in which this was handled so that going forward we avoid it."

The British and Australian embassies have also been called to a meeting at the International Relations Department.

'SA WILL ISSUE THREAT ALERTS'

The South African government has made it clear to embassies based in this country that it is the South African government that will issue threat alerts to the public.

Monyela says government is fully capable of protecting its citizens and foreigners in the country.

"We expect foreign embassies on our soil to follow the correct channels when communicating matters of such nature. Should the need arise, the South African government would be the first to inform the public about any imminent threat."

Now, the question is whether one government can dictate to another how and when it issues warnings and travel alerts to its citizens abroad.

This is likely to be on the agenda when the US, British and Australian ambassadors meet their local counterparts at the international relations department to discuss this issue.

'NO KNOWN MILITANT GROUPS OPERATE IN SA'

South Africa has protested to the US and British embassies after they issued alerts about possible militant attacks which Pretoria said were based on "very sketchy" information.

Security officials say no known militant groups operate in South Africa, which has seldom been associated with Islamist militancy.

The government has sent a letter to the embassies "to register our displeasure" with the manner in which the matter was handled.

"The information provided as a basis for the latest terror alerts on South Africa has been found to be very sketchy," said foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela and SSA spokesman Brian Dube in a joint statement.

"We reject attempts to generate perceptions of government ineptitude, alarmist impressions and public hysteria on the basis of a questionable single source."

Officials at the US Embassy were not available to comment, but the embassy said on Twitter there is no change in the status.

"The Security Message was based on specific, credible, and non-counterable threat information," it said.

On Saturday, the United States warned its citizens of possible attacks by Islamist militants on US facilities or shopping malls in South Africa during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Additional information by Reuters