Soldiers patrol Cape Town's streets in wake of bomb blast

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The Independent Online

Rifle-wielding soldiers patrolled the streets of central Cape Town today, a day after a bomb exploded in the city center, slightly injuring six people.

Rifle-wielding soldiers patrolled the streets of central Cape Town today, a day after a bomb exploded in the city center, slightly injuring six people.

Troops are routinely sent to help police monitor rampant crime in the poor outlying townships. However, their deployment in the central business district and the wealthy Sea Point suburb is rare and underlies a growing sense of panic among officials who seem powerless to end a spate of bombings that began in August 1998. Three people have been killed, and more than 100 injured.

Tuesday's attack, which happened at the onset of the afternoon rush hour about 300 meters (yards) from the U.S. consulate, was the third this month and the 18th in a public place since August 1998. Scores of private homes have also been petrol bombed.

Close circuit security television cameras filmed the stolen car in which Tuesday's bomb was placed driving into the city about 30 minutes before it exploded, and also captured the blast.

Police spokesman Rod Beer would not confirm local media reports that the attackers were visible on the tape, saying police were still reviewing the footage.

No one has been convicted for the attacks, but police and politicians have previously blamed a Muslim vigilante group called People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, or PAGAD.

At a Wednesday news conference, PAGAD denied it was responsible for the attacks and said it was the target of a smear campaign.

"We condemn the bombings - we feel that the bombers should be caught," said PAGAD assistant national secretary Ardiel Kamedien. "Bombing is not part of part of our strategy. We are totally against any harm being inflicted on any innocent citizens."

PAGAD believes the bombings could be a government ploy to justify stringent new anti-terrorism legislation.

Cape Talk, a Cape Town radio station, reported that it had been tipped off about Tuesday's blast by a man demanding the release of some of PAGAD's imprisoned members.

The radio station said the man, who sounded like the same person who had warned them about a previous bombing, claimed the attacks would continue unless the government released Dawood Osman, a PAGAD supporter who is serving a 32-year jail term after being convicted on four murder charges in 1988.

Citing unnamed police sources, The Argus newspaper said the three bombs detonated this month were made of fertilizer and diesel.

Restaurants, police stations, gay bars, the airport and the city streets have been targeted in the bombings.

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange indices fell after Tuesday's blast, and business organizations warned that ongoing attacks would harm the city's tourism trade and ability to attract investment.

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