South African officials were struggling on Tuesday night to gain access to two nationals detained in Pakistan who are said to have confessed to planning terrorist attacks in Johannesburg.
Foreign Affairs Department spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said South Africa’s diplomatic mission in Islamabad had failed to gain permission to visit the men, who were being held somewhere in Lahore. This was ostensibly because the debriefing process with the prisoners was still underway.
“Until such time that we have been granted consular access we are unable to comment on the alleged plots,” Mamoepa said.
The French news agency AFP earlier in the day quoted a Pakistani official as saying the two had planned to attack tourist sites in Johannesburg.
The pair — Abu Bakar, a doctor, and Zubair Ismail -â€’ were arrested last week in the eastern Pakistani city of Gujrat along with Tanzanian al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.
Mamoepa said the department’s information was that the two men had been identified as Feroze Ganchi, a doctor from Fordsburg, Johannesburg, and 20-year-old student Zubair Ismail, from Laudium, Pretoria.
“The thrust of government’s approach to the matter is to seek permission for consular access, according to the Geneva Convention, to the prisoners.”
This had been done through the Pakistani foreign ministry and that country’s high commission in Pretoria, Mamoepa said.
The alleged confession has been dismissed as “ludicrous” by the Media Review Network (MRN), an advocacy group which aims to dispel myths and stereotypes about Islam.
MRN chairperson Iqbal Jassat said he feared the two South Africans were being tortured into making the confessions.
Jassat questioned what possible motives the two could have had to plant explosives at tourist sites in Johannesburg.
“South Africa has resolutely stood by its principles that any action taken in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere must be done under the aegis of the United Nations or other multi-lateral organisations. Why should they risk alienating the South African government?” he said.
“This statement issued by the Pakistani intelligence, probably at the behest of their masters in the CIA/Mossad, surely cannot be considered by even the most dimwitted, as credible.”
Maps, foreign currency, computers, computer discs and Arabic-language documents had been found in the house where the two were arrested.
Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said the information on the computer was “valuable” and had been passed on to Pakistan’s “friends”, a reference to its close war on terrorism ally the United States. – Sapa