Cape Town –
As Muslim clerics went to mosques on Friday to deliver a “national unified” sermon warning about Islamic State activities in the country, it emerged that at least 23 South Africans, including families, have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join combat.
But the State Security Agency could only say that international terrorism and active recruitments within social media is a matter of concern that required all efforts.
“It’s a reality that we must deal with. The minister made it known that the department will engage with a wide range of stakeholders as part of its mandate to secure South Africa,” said State Security Agency spokesman Brian Dube.
On Friday, Al Jazeera revealed that at least 23 people, including eight families with children had left the country to join IS as recruits in the past year.
This, according to Al Jazeera, was confirmed by a Turkish foreign ministry official who said about a dozen South Africans were detained and subsequently deported back for attempting to reach IS territory last month.
The news came as fears increased after Muslim organisations expressed concern about growing sympathy for IS among some South African Muslims.
The clerics said reports had been received that more South Africans had left for Syria since the news of the 16-year-old Cape Town girl broke in the past month.
Al Jazeera reported that some of the affected families had reacted with shock and confusion to the defection of their relatives, with reports of at least two people who died in battle in Syria.
Residents of a small but predominantly Indian community outside Joburg that has been red flagged told Independent Media speaking about IS recruitment was taboo.
People were reluctant to talk about alleged IS recruitment in the open because they feared it would ruin the image of the community.
But the area, which Independent visited, is understood to be among the many communities across the country where meetings by state security agencies and Muslim leadership have apparently been held recently.
“It’s an issue that most people in the community don’t want to talk about, but I know for a fact that IS has actively been recruiting people here,” said one resident anonymously. “It has ruined families and many people in the community have turned against one another.”
Another resident said: “My cousin tried joining IS, but did not make it all the way to Syria. He was caught in Turkey and was forced to return home.
“He tried again and ever since then we have not heard from him, so I assume he has joined up with the organisation.
“We have had to install cameras in different areas of the community to monitor any suspicious behaviour,” said one resident.
“One of the members of our community had gone to Syria to join up with IS and was killed in combat. The family are devastated by the loss… (now) their other son wants to go to Syria too.”
Na’eem Jeenah, director of the think tank, Afro-Middle East Centre, said:
“It’s clear that the number of South Africans going to join IS is much more substantial than just the Cape Town girl who was stopped…”
Muslim organisations and scholars said yesterday there was serious concern within the community.
There are families whose lives have been made miserable because of the intention of family members to join IS.
Pretoria News Weekend