JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — When the issue of security during the upcoming World Cup is raised, it is usually in reference to South Africa's high crime rate. But there has been surprisingly little discussion about the threat of terrorist attacks.
South Africa is one of the few places in the world where the threat of religious extremism is not part of everyday life. The road blocks, security checks and frisks before entering buildings that are common around the world are rare here.
This country — because of its unique history, the government’s sympathetic stand toward the Palestinian struggle and the stature in which the world holds Nelson Mandela — has been spared serving as a battlefront in the “War on Terror.”
But now the South African media are reporting on an article that appeared in a Scottish newspaper, The Daily Record, which reported on Saturday that “Al Qaeda have threatened to kill hundreds of fans during England's World Cup match against the U.S.”
According to the paper, “the terrorists' north African branch, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, boasted they would evade security in South Africa by using undetectable bombs.”
The Scottish paper quotes an online Jihad magazine: "How amazing could the match United States vs Britain be when broadcasted live at a stadium packed with spectators when the sound of an explosion rumbles through the stands. The whole stadium is turned upside down and the number of dead are in their dozens and hundreds, Allah willing."
South African authorities and World Cup organizers were quick to give assurances that every precaution has been taken to prevent a terrorist attack.
South African security officials have been preparing for all types of emergencies — including terrorism — for several years. They have conducted exercises in various cities around the country simulating attacks including by chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear weapons emanating from the sea, air or land.
“We know that events such as the World Cup often present a temptation for criminals to commit crime or would-be terrorists to send negative and disturbing messages," South African Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa told the press this week. "We are steadfast in our security plans, and we will not be distracted in our cause. Any type of deviant behavior, be it criminality or terrorism, will be dealt with swiftly and with no mercy.”
Jerome Valcke, the secretary general of FIFA, said that the world soccer organization is working with South African and international security agencies to "make sure that nothing will happen in South Africa."
The South African government has emphasized that it is working with other nations and international police and intelligence agencies.
“State-of-the-art information and communication military technology will be used as well as a fleet of nearly 40 helicopters,” said a government statement. A dedicated force of 41,000 police officers will also be deployed.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said that the international police agency would use technological devices to screen the passports of World Cup visitors and that the South African armed forces would be used to patrol the country’s borders.
All the security agencies will be on the alert until the last World Cup team and tourist leaves the country.
Annelize Botha, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, said the attitude of South Africans to the threats of terrorism is: “Why would anybody targets us? We don’t have an issue with anybody.”
“What people forget,” Botha noted. “Is that terrorism is not about the country but about the event."
It is about striking during one of the highest profile events in the world, she said.
Botha said authorities must remain vigilant because South Africa’s borders have been porous for years.
“The announcement that South Africa was hosting the World Cup was made in 2004,” said Botha, who is the author of counterterrorism manual used by southern African nations. “And some of these terrorists are patient and plan well.”