White extremists set off bombs in Soweto, says Mbeki

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The Independent Online

President Thabo Mbeki blamed white extremists for bombs in South Africa's sprawling Soweto township yesterday which killed one person, damaged a mosque and an Islamic school and destroyed railway connections with Johannesburg. Officials said they were trying to determine if a tenth blast at a Buddhist temple 70 miles away was linked to the others.

President Mbeki said the blasts in the mainly black satellite area of Johannesburg where more than a million people live, were a "terrorist campaign to create a political climate that would lead to a coup". No one claimed responsibility, but the national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, said two white men were reported acting suspiciously near a petrol station where one bomb was defused. Police said it had been placed to cause maximum damage.

"We think we know who did this," Mr Selebi told parliament. "We calculate there are many more bombs than those that have exploded." South Africa's Safety and Security Minister, Charles Nqakula, said police were trying to put together a profile of the bombers. "Whoever is responsible for this ... is going to face the full might of the law," he promised.

Some whites continue to oppose the country's multiracial democracy and advocate a return to the racist apartheid system of governance, which ended with all-race elections in 1994. Fifteen white Afrikaners, including three senior army officers, were recently charged with high treason, sabotage and terrorism after an alleged plot to overthrow Mr Mbeki. They will go on trial next year, accused of plotting to topple the government, seize or destroy military installations, and "chase blacks out of the country".

Police officials, who discovered two arms caches in remote northern rural areas while investigating the 15, are still trying to locate more "ringleaders" linked to the plot. Officers said ammonium nitrate, used in the mining industry, was found at the sites of yesterday's bomb blasts. The bombing of the railway, used by thousands of Sowetans who work in the city, sent debris hundreds of feet in the air. One piece crashed through the roof of a shack, killing a 42-year-old woman as she slept. Her 51-year-old husband suffered serious head injuries.

Soweto's small Muslim community had to make do with a derelict warehouse for midday prayers yesterday. "We have a very good relationship with everybody," Imam Ubada Ntshingane, the spiritual leader at the mosque, said. "We do not know why we were targeted."

Faith Mhlongo, whose house is close to the mosque, said her family was asleep when the bomb was detonated. "I couldn't figure out what it was, but it felt like a helicopter falling from the sky," she said. "The house was shaking and the windows were shattered."

The leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, Tony Leon, said bombs and terrorism had no place in the world, least of all in democratic South Africa. The youth league of Mr Mbeki's ruling African National Congress said the "senseless and irresponsible idiots" behind the blasts were cowards.