Last week the US government received information that terrorist groups were planning to carry out near-term attacks against places where US citizens congregated in South Africa, such as upscale shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town. This information was later discovered to be from a discredited source. News24 reported that the source of the information the US acted on was an East African businessman living in South Africa who wanted money for the tip.
“A source with access to South African intelligence says‚ however‚ that the businessman was believed by South Africa to be a ‘discredited’ informer who was only after the money he’d be paid for the information‚” it says.
Director of the Terrorism‚ Research & Analysis Consortium in Southern Africa, Jasmine Opperman, says that if this was the source of the information‚ its credibility must be tested.
She adds that the US now has a responsibility to come out and prove that the information was gathered from credible sources.
“When I saw the initial statement [from the US] my gut feeling was‚ ‘this is an intercept’‚” she says.
According to Opperman the information might have been intercepted from communication channels‚ such as social media networks‚ between two parties.
If this is the case‚ a question of reliability must be raised as the identities of the parties may not be known to intelligence officials. Intercepted information must therefore be verified by a human source‚ she says.
Opperman also says that an East African businessman communicating from South Africa was not far-fetched‚ but that the terrorist organisation was off‚ as Al Shabaab was the most active terrorist organisation in that region.
“How does a guy from east Africa communicate on Islamic State? ISIS (Islamic State) is the flavour of the month in any intelligence agency … Information peddlers are the greatest risk. People will come up with any information because an intelligence service is more than likely to pay for it.
“Information peddlers present information in a context that is well known and then fabricate the rest.”
State Security Minister David Mahlobo on Monday assured South Africans that there was no immediate danger and no need to fear an Islamic terror attack.
Opperman agreed‚ saying there was no evidence that an attack on SA soil was being planned.
Shoppers unfazed by talk of terror
It appears to be shopping as usual for South African consumers despite the alerts issued by the US, Britain and Australia of possible terror attacks at Johannesburg and Cape Town shopping malls.
Listed property funds Hyprop, Growthpoint and Redefine reported on Friday that they had not been able to pick up any change in consumer behaviour.
Pieter Prinsloo, the chief executive of Hyprop, confirmed that they had a few telephone calls from customers raising their concerns and were “dealing” with those inquiries. He says security at Hyprop’s malls had been placed on high alert, particularly for any suspicious packages and behaviour, but it had not picked up any slowdown in trading in its malls.
Hyprop’s malls include Canal Walk in Cape Town and Rosebank Mall, Clearwater Mall and Hyde Park Corner in Johannesburg.
Malls up security
Estienne de Klerk, the MD of Growthpoint Properties, says there was insufficient time since the alerts to get any credible feedback about any change in the behaviour of shoppers.
But De Klerk stressed that Growthpoint took the alerts very seriously and had, for instance, called a special board meeting of the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront investment company to ensure they were satisfied with the measures taken to ensure patron and shopper safety. Growthpoint owns 50 percent of the V&A Waterfront, with the Public Investment Corporation owning the balance.
De Klerk says across the board Growthpoint had contingency plans in place and had introduced additional security.
“It’s not something we can or should ignore and is clearly another headwind for the industry that we don’t welcome. South African shopping centres are part of the urban fabric and a place of pleasure for families and nobody wants to see anything go wrong.”
Growthpoint owns 58 retail properties valued at about R28,2-billion.
No noticeable slowdown in trading
Andrew Konig, the chief executive of Redefine, says there had not been any noticeable slowdown in trading at its retail centres, but it was something that was hard to gauge.
“I can’t say we’re anticipating any significant change to shopping behaviour as a consequence of the alerts. As a responsible owner of retail properties we have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect shoppers and tenants. We are proactive in this regard and liaising with the relevant authorities and our own security,” he says.
By Roy Cokayne for www.iol.co.za; Roxanne Henderson for www.bdlive.co.za