The murderous Islamic State (Isis) is active in South Africa and has been recruiting citizens to fight in Iraq and Syria. So far, three have died fighting for the terrorist group.
Iraq’s ambassador to South Africa, Dr Hushaim al-Alawi, said on Saturday that the men’s deaths were subsequently covered up as car accidents. The trio had travelled to Syria separately.
The terror group is known for its highly publicised beheadings of foreigners and for carrying out other public executions.
Al-Alawi says he shared the information with Department of International Relations and Co-operation officials. According to a UN report, more than 15 000 people from various countries have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside Isis. The Sunday Independent understands that up to 140 men have left South Africa to join the group.
But Department of State Security spokesman Brian Dube said he was unaware of any South Africans joining Isis. However, he said intelligence officials would look into it.
The Syrian Embassy said it was not aware of the matter.
The Foreign Military Assistance Act, 1998 (Act No 15 1998) prohibits South African citizens from participating in the armed forces of foreign states, rendering foreign military assistance and taking part in armed groups.
Although al-Alawi said he was not aware that 140 SA citizens had allegedly joined Isis, he said there were groups operating in the country recruiting for and raising funds for Isis under the guise of humanitarian aid.
He said one of the South Africans who died fighting for Isis was recruited by two men in Joburg.
The 24-year-old had travelled with a group of young men from Azaadville and Lenasia. He is believed to have been killed in combat for Isis in October last year.
The ambassador said before the man left the county he sold all his belongings, including his car.
Al-Alawi said the man came from a wealthy background.
“He was recruited by two men in Gauteng. The group used the slogan of supporting refugees and orphans,” he said. The third victim to die in combat this year was a 26-year-old man from Vereeniging, who went to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage.
“When he got to Saudi Arabia he came in contact with a man who convinced him to travel to Syria to join Isis,” he said.
The man died fighting for Isis, but his family were told he had died in a car crash. “They always use car accidents as an excuse.”
A 54-year-old man from Cape Town had left with a group that was meant to provide humanitarian aid but then joined Isis and died while he was travelling in a convoy with the terror group.
“His body has been returned to South Africa,” said al-Alawi.
He said the group used its strong media resources to lure young men from various countries to join them.
He cited the example of a man who attended Friday prayers with a friend at a mosque in the Eastern Cape. He was shocked by the speaker’s inflammatory language. “They were saying all non-Muslim should be sent to hell,” said al-Alawi.
A spokesman for the Muslim judicial body, the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, said: “If this is a matter of fact that so many South Africans are joining the Islamic State, there will always be concerns. There are legal implications for anyone involved in armed conflicts around the world.”
This week the African Christian Democratic Party released a statement calling on the government to investigate the allegations that elements in South Africa are “key players in facilitating funding and sending of recruits to fight alongside Isis”.
Al-Alawi said it was the obligation of all countries to raise awareness to prevent young men from joining terrorist groups.
“This is not a simple issue to deal with, but we have to bring on board government and non-government organisations to fight terrorism. I think if we do that we are likely to succeed,” said al-Alawi.
Last year South Africans were shocked when it emerged that “White Widow” Samantha Lewthwaite – believed to be the mastermind behind the terrorist attack in Kenya – had lived in a flat in Mayfair, Joburg with her three children.
International Relations spokesman Nelson Kgwete told The Sunday Independent on Saturday they were unaware of South Africans being recruited by Isis, but if the ambassador had passed on such information, it would have been relayed to security authorities.
Kgwete could not confirm whether the bodies of the dead men who were allegedly Isis recruits had been repatriated to South Africa.
“The UN Security Council recently adopted a resolution that member countries must take harsh action against citizens helping such groups. In South Africa we have laws that deal with this, and any citizens who are found to be in contravention of the laws will be dealt with.”
He said security agents would be best positioned to look into the allegations and take appropriate action.