FBI joins Cape Town's war on terrorism

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The Independent Online

Foreign intelligence experts have been drafted to Cape Town to join a massive police hunt for a militant Muslim group held responsible for a four-year bombing campaign in the city, amid warnings thaturban terrorism is spiralling out of control.

Foreign intelligence experts have been drafted to Cape Town to join a massive police hunt for a militant Muslim group held responsible for a four-year bombing campaign in the city, amid warnings thaturban terrorism is spiralling out of control.

South Africa's Safety and Security Minister, Steve Tshwete, said that if strong action was not taken to deal with the Islamic group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad), the violence could spread from Cape Town to other parts of the country. He warned that South Africa could find itself in a similar situation to Algeria, where 100,000 people have died in Islamic-related violence since 1992.

Officers from the FBI and European agencies, including Scotland Yard, arrived in Cape Town at the weekend to join a large contingent of senior detectives in devising a strategy to deal with the attacks.

Three people have died and more than 100 have been injured since the bombing campaign began. There have been 19 attacks on public places, eight of them this year. Restaurants, gay bars, police stations and the airport have been targeted.

Last Thursday a magistrate who had been hearing cases involving Pagad, Pieter Theron, was assassinated at his home. On Friday a car bomb exploded outside Obz Café, a popular student haunt - the fifth car bomb in a month in the city. Nobody was injured.

The government wants to push through new anti-terrorism legislation that will give police the power to ban terrorist groups, stop and search people and vehicles, and detain suspects for longer than 48 hours - a controversial move in a country with bad memories of emergency laws. There will be a debate on the terror campaign in parliament today.

"This is not the time for niceties," Mr Tshwete said yesterday. "Our friends in Algeria have intimated that if we do not take a bold stand we might soon find ourselves in a similar situation. They are saying to us that this is how it started in Algeria and look where it is today."

The police have dropped the word "alleged" from statements linking Pagad to terrorist acts. The group, which started out as an anti-drug campaign has apparently transmogrified into a militant Islamic network waging an ideological war against South Africa's liberal state.

At the weekend Mr Tshwete said the police were dealing with an "underground network of fanatics" working in so-called G-force cells scattered around the city. He was "absolutely convinced" Pagad was responsible for the recent attacks.

A justice spokesman, Paul Setsetse, agreed: "There is no question now about who is behind them. Every time there is a Pagad court case there is a bomb." Pagad, he added, is the only group targeting the courts, policemen, police stations, homosexuals and the US. "It has classified this country as a satanic state and stated its intention to destroy South Africa." The government believes Pagad may have international terrorist connections, and it is partly for this reason that it has called on foreign experts for help.

Mr Setsetse told The Independent: "There is evidence that Pagad's bombers are highly trained and skilled. Certainly they're not your ordinary guy in the street throwing bombs. That makes us think that they have links with other terrorist groups in the world."

Pagad has threatened to take legal action against the government over the allegations but it seems on shaky ground. Its members have been involved in 54 court cases in recent years resulting in 42 convictions.

Policing has been stepped up in Cape Town and protection organised for public prosecutors, magistrates and police dealing with urban terror cases.

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