Suspected ISIS attack in South Africa (May 10, 2018)

On this day in 2018, a rare terrorist attack occurred when three men killed one person and wounded two in a bomb/knife assault against a Shia mosque.

South Africa is of course known for its apartheid system: it is less well known for terrorism.

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA – It was not that long ago when South Africa was an international pariah. The loathsome apartheid system which had been in place for decades made the nation toxic to many others. South Africa was banned from many international organisations and the US Congress in 1986 passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act which imposed sanctions against South Africa and stated five preconditions for lifting the sanctions that would essentially end apartheid.

For his part former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave an eloquent speech to the United Nations in New York which one government official described as ‘admirable’. Mr. Mulroney was also instrumental in convincing his UK counterpart Margaret Thatcher to drop its opposition to economic sanctions against South Africa.

On the other side of the apartheid debate was the iconic Nelson Mandela. Jailed for decades by the regime he emerged as the country’s first black President in the first free election in 1994. Mr. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1993.

Petrol bomb assault on Shia worshippers

Despite the fall of the racist governing system South Africa remains a very violent society. Crime rates are far too high and as late as 2018 the nation ranked fifth worst in a survey of 142 countries studied. Interestingly, the level of violence has risen fairly steady since 1994, the very year apartheid ended.

One form of violence that has been thankfully rare in South Africa is terrorism. In my daily scanning of violent extremism around the world South Africa almost never crops up. I am not really sure why that is.

On this day in 2018 an act of terrorism did occur, however. One person was killed and two critically wounded in knife and petrol bomb assault on Shia worshippers near Durban. Three men were suspected of the attack and police believed ‘elements of extremism’ were involved. A local religious leader pointed to Islamic State (ISIS) as the culprit.

There has been a huge organised hate campaign in different mosques, radio stations and on social media against the Shia community. There have been threats at this mosque.

I frankly am surprised at an ISIS attack in South Africa. Islamist extremist attacks are virtually unheard of in that country. Still, the hatred these actors have for anything Shia is well known. I cannot therefore rule out that ISIS was indeed behind the assault.

I am nevertheless fairly confident that terrorist attacks in South Africa will remain the exception and not the rule. I hope I am right in that assessment.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply