South Africa: ‘Discredited’ Source Behind Terror Alert Issued By U.S. Embassy

Intelligence received by the U.S. embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, relating to a terror threat may have come from a “discredited” informer who was only in it for the money.

The terror alert issued by the U.S. embassy in Pretoria over the weekend and reported on the Inquisitr may be based on information given to the embassy by an east African businessman living in South Africa.

According to an report by News24, a source with access to South African intelligence said the businessman involved is believed to be a “discredited” informer who was only doing this for the money he would receive for providing the information.

As noted in an earlier report on the Inquisitr, South African authorities are taking the threat comparatively lightly as compared to the U.S., with the State Security Minister David Mahlobo downplaying the terror alert and saying there is no need to panic.

Mahlobo was quoted on saying Monday that the South African security services “have liaised with the Americans on the concerns they have and these engagements will continue as part of the ongoing work.”

He added, “It is the responsibility of the South African security forces to ensure that all people within our territory are and feel safe.”

“We remain a strong and stable democratic country and there is no immediate danger posed by the alert.”

In the original terror warning by the U.S. embassy, officials said they had received information that radical Islamic terrorist groups were planning an attack on “places where U.S. citizens congregate in South Africa, such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town” ahead of Ramadan, which starts on Tuesday.

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Following the alert by the U.S. embassy, the United Kingdom and Australia followed suit in warning their citizens about possible terror attacks in South Africa. However, both countries later revised their warning and are not cautioning their citizens against travel to South Africa and are merely telling them to be vigilant.

According to Jasmine Opperman, Africa Director for the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), the alert given to the U.S. Embassy and the one passed on to the U.K. and Australia were clearly from the same source.

“What is noteworthy is the alerts are directed to their citizens, which clearly indicates that they are importing their threats of direct attacks onto South African soil,” Opperman said.

When Opperman was asked what purpose these terror alerts would serve, she said, “It is a play-it-safe tactic so when an attack should happen, they can claim to have done early warning to their citizens.”

“These statements are more reflective of our counter-terrorism approach and ability to protect their citizens.”

Opperman went on to stress that “there is simply no indication of Islamic State cell structure presence or planned attacks” in South Africa.

She did say that while South Africa should not take the terror alert lightly, authorities should not “allow such statements to dictate its counter-terror strategy.”

Opperman also said that if the east African businessman was, indeed, the source of the information‚ its credibility must be tested and that the U.S. has the responsibility to come out and prove the information they had was from credible sources.

“When I saw the initial statement [from the U.S.] my gut feeling was‚ ‘this is an intercept‚'” Opperman said.

According to Opperman, the information may have been intercepted from communication channels‚ such as social media networks‚ between two parties. If this is the case, questions must be raised as to the reliability of the parties involved. She added that intercepted information of this nature must, therefore, be verified by a human source.

Opperman also said that while information being passed on by an east African businessman is not necessarily a far-fetched situation, he would have more likely have rather warned against Al Shabaab, who are the most active terrorist organization in that region, adding, “How does a guy from east Africa communicate on Islamic State?”

She believes that “ISIS (Islamic State) is the flavor of the month in any intelligence agency,” saying that information peddlers are the “greatest risk.”

“People will come up with any information because an intelligence service is more than likely to pay for it.

“Information peddlers present information in a context that is well known and then fabricate the rest.”

She did confirm, however, that, as reported earlier, measures will be taken to upgrade security at the various malls and tourist resorts.

Reportedly, the security message issued Saturday was not a travel warning or travel alert, as such, but rather a security message containing information about “personal security threats of a general or systemic nature, such as crime trends, demonstrations, peaceful actions intended to disrupt normal activity, or localized events not likely to affect large numbers of U.S. citizens.”

When contacted by News24 Tuesday, U.S. embassy spokesperson Cynthia Harvey said the embassy “cannot comment on intelligence matters.” Harvey did, however, offer assurances that they are working closely with local authorities.

Brian Dube, speaking for State Security, said that at this stage they are not in a position to reveal the intelligence currently being investigated.

[Image via Flickr by Sea Turtle/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]