'No terrorist threat to Cup'
South African Arab and Somali groups have played down fears of terrorist threats to the World Cup, despite yesterday's Sunday Times report revealing that training camps for militants are operating in several provinces.
Yesterday, the newspaper reported that the Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that deals with terrorism, warned the US Congress that Pakistani and Somali terrorist cells in South Africa, linked to al-Qaeda, were planning "simultaneous and random attacks" during the soccer tournament.
"I believe there is an 80% chance of an attack," said the organisation's Ronald Sandee.
It was also reported that Pakistani and Somali militants from al-Qaeda and its Somali ally, al-Shahaab, were training in camps in northern Mozambique and were ready to cross into South Africa.
Ahmed Habiballah, chairman of the Arab Associations' Union in South Africa, said: "We would like to assure everyone that Arabs in South Africa are committed to having [the World Cup] successfully, and ensuring that there is no speculation of such attacks."
Abdul Hassam, regional chairman of the Somali Association of SA, said he had not heard of terror threats from any of its provincial offices.
"The Somalis who are in this country ran away from war; why would they want to cause war and terrorism? Somalis are only tying to survive," he said.
But conjecture about terrorism during the build-up to the tournament has caused international anxiety.
US Attorney-General Eric Holder discussed the possibility with the interior ministers of Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Poland and Britain at a security conference at the weekend.
Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said: "We proposed that, if a European team is knocked out of the competition, the agents who accompanied it to provide security will remain in South Africa to help their colleagues from other countries."
Last Tuesday, the US state department issued a travel alert that warned US citizens of a "heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa in the near future".
It said that the US government had "no information on any specific, credible threat of attack that any individual or group is planning".
The UK foreign office warned travellers that: "Attacks, though unlikely, could be indiscriminate."
A crime intelligence police officer told The Times yesterday that officers were briefed to "be on the lookout for anything that would disrupt [the World Cup] - criminal or political [including terrorism], anything."
The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a special unit within police intelligence had been established to deal with terror threats.
State security ministry spokesman Brian Dube told French news agency AFP that no terror threat to the tournament had been uncovered.
"As far as we're concerned, there are no threats that we have identified linked to the World Cup," he said.
"No country is immune to these things, that's why we say we'll continue to be vigilant. But, really, there isn't any threat to the World Cup itself." - Additional reporting by Sapa