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‘SA is not immune to terrorist attacks’

The Institute for Race Relations says the type of attacks in France & Belgium are very difficult to prevent.

FILE: The SA flag now hangs in the prime ad space once home to the #ZumaMustFallBillboard. Workers busy adjusting edges. Picture: Natalie Malgas/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - The Institute for Race Relations says it has been warning that South Africa is not immune to terrorist attacks for years, emphasising that the type of attacks in France and Belgium are very difficult to prevent.

The United States embassy issued a terror alert last weekend, but the International Relations Department believes the source lacks credibility and now government has served a démarche on the embassy.

The institute says South Africa has porous borders, there's access to weapons and terror suspects have been found in possession of South African passports.

CEO Frans Cronje says there should have been a coordinated statement between government and foreign agencies.

"The initial statements from the minister was that there are no threats. It's silly in some respect, there's no country, no agency that can't be immune from these attacks. The attacks in Tel Aviv, in a society such as Israel with their quality of security and intelligent services can't prevent an attack."

He says, "South Africa has very porous borders, it's easy to obtain fraudulent documentation. Our weapons are easily available, we are on the tail of what's called 'the African terror belt' - there are numerous examples of terror suspects, or people linked to terror suspects being found in possession of South African documents."

On Monday, the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium said it had verified reports of al-Shabaab supporters in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and in a suburb in Vereeniging.

The US embassy has warned attacks are likely to be carried out at upscale shopping malls in Cape Town and Johannesburg during the month of Ramadan.

US OFFICIALS SUMMONED

In a strong show of diplomatic displeasure, the South African government yesterday 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 this week in which it accused the Americans of trying to undermine this country's counter-terrorism efforts.

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 said 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 insisted 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 said 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.