South Africa summons US envoy over terror alert

Mall of Africa in Midrand, Gauteng is among many malls in South Africa that beefed up their security after the US warned of a potential terror attack in the country on June 4. PHOTO | HERBERT MATIMBA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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US ambassador called in to explain warning, discuss matter and compare notes.

PRETORIA, Thursday

The recently-released terror threat alerts by the US, British and Australian missions have sparked diplomatic tensions with the South African government reprimanding the three countries.

In a strong show of diplomatic displeasure, the South African government has summoned the US ambassador to the International Relations Department to explain the circumstances surrounding the issuing of a terror alert.

The US embassy in Pretoria was first to release the alert through its website on Saturday before Britain and Australia followed. The alerts claimed Johannesburg and Cape Town malls were being targeted by terrorists.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and State Security Agency said government was displeased with the manner in which the alerts were passed, adding the information was very sketchy.

DIRCO’s spokesman Clayson Monyela said the US embassy’s source lacked credibility.

“Alerts of those nature have the unintended consequences of causing panic and we have a responsibility to ensure that the information that we rely on, at the very least, has to be credible,” he said.

He added government had taken the action to call in the US embassy to come and discuss this matter further to compare notes. “We will also express our displeasure in the manner in which this was handled so that going forward we avoid it,” Mr Monyela said. The US embassy has responded by saying there is no change and the threat of Isis attacks at shopping malls still exists.

The US embassy’s Cynthia Harvey said the information is credible and it will continue to work with the government.

“We have been, and will continue to be, impressed with the high level of professionalism and transparent cooperation with the government of South Africa throughout this period,” she said.

The opposition Democratic Alliance spokesperson Steves Mokgalapa said South Africa should have taken the lead in relaying any message about the issue in an appropriate manner.

“If it was better communicated it would not have caused pandemonium. The Americans and the British do their own thing, they follow information passed to them so the issue is it should have been communicated better by Dirco,” Mr Mokgalapa said.

The Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Martin Ewi believes there is no better way to communicate such a message.

“The US has a constitutional responsibility to communicate any information that can save their citizens especially from a potential attack like this. We will face threats like this until the US is able to find a way to communicate such messages,” said Mr Ewi.

After the alert was issued, all five shopping centres in the Liberty Property Portfolio Sandton City, Nelson Mandela Square, Eastgate, Liberty Midlands Mall and Liberty Promenade confirmed they were on high alert and added security measures.


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