Country Report on Terrorism 2018 - Chapter 1 - South Africa

Overview:  South Africa saw an increase in suspected terrorism-related incidents in 2018.  In May, an attack on the only Shia mosque in the Durban area was reported to be sectarian in nature. The suspects arrested and charged in this case and the incendiary devices were linked to ISIS by the prosecutor.  In the weeks following the attack, several incendiary devices were detected in local shopping malls.  Since publicly acknowledging the presence of ISIS facilitation networks and cells in 2016, the South African government has not provided public estimates of the number of South African nationals who have migrated or returned from ISIS-controlled territories. However, prominent think tanks and analysts in South Africa estimate that around 100 individuals migrated to ISIS-controlled parts of Syria or Iraq between early 2014 and late 2016, with the majority subsequently returning to South Africa or perishing on the battlefield.

2018 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist incidents in 2018 included the following:

  • In February, a dual South African/British couple were kidnapped and murdered in KwaZulu-Natal province. Police charged four people in the case, two with terrorist connections, including Fatima Patel who was previously charged for having links to ISIS, and Sayefudeen Del Vecchio.
  • On May 10, in the Verulam neighborhood of Durban, assailants attacked the only Shia mosque, the Imam Hussain Mosque, in KwaZulu Natal. An unknown number of men stabbed two worshippers, slashed the throat of another, and set the mosque partially ablaze.  One victim succumbed to his injuries.  A few days after this incident, an undetonated incendiary device was found in the same mosque.
  • On July 5, two similar incendiary devices were detonated at shopping malls in the Durban suburbs.
  • On the morning of July 7, a similar incendiary device, this time undetonated, was found attached to a cell phone at one of the same shopping centers targeted on July 5. Shoppers were evacuated after the device was reported to authorities.
  • On the evening of July 7, two incendiary devices were found near or under parked cars in close proximity to the Durban July festival, which is an annual gathering in Durban that attracts politicians, celebrities, and tourists.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  South Africa’s law enforcement and judiciary used existing legislation to respond to an increased level of terrorism activity.  The Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (POCDATARA) criminalizes acts of terrorism, as well as the financing of terrorism, and sets out specific obligations related to international cooperation.  The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998 applies to nationals who attempt to or who have joined terrorist groups, including ISIS.  The Counter Assault Team, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, and South Africa’s State Security Agency are tasked with detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism within South Africa.  The South African Police Service (SAPS) Special Task Force is specifically trained and proficient in counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and hostage rescue.  The National Prosecuting Authority is committed to prosecuting cases of terrorism and international crime.  The South African Revenue Service protects South African borders from illegal smuggling of goods.  The Department of Justice submitted a Cybercrimes Bill to Parliament in 2018, aimed at halting the spread of malicious communications over the internet.  The bill is still under parliamentary procedure.

The trial of twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie, arrested in 2016 for planning to attack the U.S. Embassy and Jewish institutions in South Africa, was postponed several times in 2018.  The brothers are still awaiting trial, along with siblings Ebrahim and Fatima Patel, charged with having links to ISIS.  The Thulsies were designated as terrorists by the United States in 2017.  Legal observers focusing on the Thulsie, Del Vecchio, and Patel cases view them as an important test of the POCDATARA legislation, given the lack of legal precedent.

On October 5, 19 suspects, including South Africans from the Durban area and foreign nationals from the DRC, Tanzania, and Burundi, were arrested in Durban in connection with the May 10 mosque attack.  Charges against seven suspects were later withdrawn. The remaining suspects are being charged with murder, attempted murder, offenses relating to explosive or other lethal devices, arson, extortion, possession of explosives, kidnapping, unlawful possession of a firearm, and possession of unlicensed ammunition.  State prosecution linked the assailants to ISIS, and provided supportive affidavits tying the group to terrorist activity. Bail was preliminarily granted for seven of the accused, while 11, including the Durban terror cell’s ringleader Farhad Hoomer, remained behind bars.  On November 27, the magistrate approved the leave applications for the remaining 11 incarcerated suspects, releasing them on bail.

Border security is challenging in South Africa because of its numerous land, sea, and air ports of entry for international travelers.  South Africa has multiple law enforcement agencies policing its borders, but they often operate within information silos and inadequate communication limits their border control ability.  Counterterrorism measures at international airports include screening with advanced technology X-ray machines, but land borders do not have advanced technology and infrastructure.  Trafficking networks made use of these land borders for many forms of illicit smuggling.  Regulation of visa, passport, and identity documents remained a challenge within South Africa.  The SAPS internal affairs office investigated allegations of corruption within the Department of Home Affairs concerning the illicit sale of passports and identity documents, but the use of illegitimately obtained identity documents continued.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: There were no significant changes in 2018.  South Africa is a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG), a FATF-style regional body.  South Africa’s FIU, the Financial Intelligence Centre, is a member of the Egmont Group.  Since FATF published its mutual evaluation report on South Africa in 2008, the country’s legal and institutional frameworks for terrorist financing issues have improved, including bank supervision capacity and criminalization of money laundering and terrorist financing activities.

For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism: South African community leaders and civil society participated in interactive CVE sessions with the U.S. government during 2018. South Africa’s 2013 National Counter-Terrorism Strategy is based on five pillars: 1) Understanding and Prediction; 2) Prevention; 3) Mitigation; 4) Combating; and 5) Response – Dealing with the Consequences.  The strategy is supported by an implementation plan, as well as timeframes for implementation, assessment, and reassessment, and is updated annually by the South African interagency.

International and Regional Cooperation:  South Africa is a member of the GCTF, the AU, and the Southern African Development Corporation.