Authorities still in the dark about World Cup terror threat
South African security agencies were, on Thursday afternoon, still in the dark over the arrest of alleged terror suspect Abdullah Azzam Saleh Misfar al-Qahtani in Iraq earlier this week.
In an interview with the Associated Press following his arrest on Monday, al-Qahtani, a former lieutenant in the Saudi army, admitted to planning an attack on the Danish and Dutch football teams in South Africa during the World Cup next month.
But national police spokesperson Colonel Vish Naidoo said: “We are still waiting for information from the Iraqis. So far nothing has been forthcoming ... We are taking it seriously though and will be doing our own research and validation of the threat posed.”
This week’s arrest coincided with the release of a report by international intelligence gathering company Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) that downplayed the possibility of a jihadist terror attack.
The special report, entitled Security and Africa’s World Cup, noted that, “despite thinly veiled threats from regional jihadists, none of the major groups [either global or regional] possesses the capability or the strategic intention to carry out a spectacular attack against a World Cup venue”.
The report found that al-Qaeda’s core in Afghanistan and Pakistan had “not demonstrated an ability to strike outside South Asia for years” and blamed the “devolution of al-Qaeda prime” by United States military in the area for “severely hampering” if not disabling its capacity to mount terror attacks. The report noted that al-Qaeda’s more “capable and active regional nodes” such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and al-Shabaab in Somalia were focused on regional acts of destabilisation.
The report also found that al-Qaeda’s offshoot in the Arabian Peninsula—responsible for the attempt to bring down the NorthWestern Airlines Flight 253 from Holland to the United States in December last year—is the “only one that has demonstrated the ability to strike outside its region”. This group, according to the report, is being closely monitored and “disrupt[ed] by US military in Yemen”. The US authorities are “working closely with South African officials” for the World Cup.
According to media reports, al-Qahtani is believed to belong to ISI and alleged attacks were planned in response to previous cartoons by a Danish artist, which were considered by some Muslims to have denigrated the image of the Prophet Muhammad.