JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African security officials on Sunday denied claims in a Sunday newspaper that the country faces a high risk of a terrorist attack during the World Cup it is hosting in less than two weeks.
The Sunday Times report pointed to a briefing to the U.S. Congress counter-terrorism caucus last week by the NEFA Foundation, which investigates terrorist activities, warning that simultaneous and random attacks were being planned.
“I believe there is an 80 percent chance of an attack,” Ronald Sandee, director of the foundation, was quoted by the paper as saying.
Police and intelligence officials dismissed the claims.
“I don’t know where they got their information from. We have all our strategies and plans in place,” Police Senior Superintendent Vish Naidoo said.
“We have intelligence briefings every day and there is nothing even suggesting what has been suggested by the Sunday Times.”
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS), which coordinates all security operations for the World Cup, also disputed the story.
“The security forces can firmly state that there is no known specific terror threat against the 2010 FIFA World Cup. All operational plans are on track, teams already in their base camps are moving around and police deployments are increasing,” it said in a statement.
South African officials have long said the country’s non-aligned status and a lack of any substantial local support for militant groups should insulate it from attacks during the June 11-July 11 showpiece event.
Both the government and soccer’s governing body FIFA, which is cooperating with foreign security agencies and Interpol, have said no viable threat has been identified.
However, analysts and security experts say such actions cannot be ruled out because of the huge attention that even a small attack would get during the tournament.
The U.S. government this week issued a travel alert for South Africa until the end of July saying: “There is a heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa in the near future.”
Iraqi authorities recently arrested an alleged al Qaeda supporter who claimed he was planning attacks on the Dutch and Danish teams, although experts later dismissed his scheme as posing no serious threat.
However, the Netherlands said it was preparing a “terror threat” warning for the tournament in response to the arrest.
In the newspaper report, Sandee said Pakistani and Somali militants were running training camps in northern Mozambique and that trainees from them might have already crossed into South Africa to form or join cells planning attacks.
“Information confirms that several venues will be targeted, some simultaneously, others at random. Reference is also made to the possibility of a kamikaze-type attack,” he was quoted as saying.
He said that numerous references had been made to World Cup attacks in closed-frequency radio broadcasts and phone intercepts in Mauritania, Algeria, Mali, Pakistan and Yemen.
While South Africa has not been targeted in recent years, several militants involved in attacks around the world are known to have spent time in the country, which experts say has acted as a safe haven and staging post for operations elsewhere.
Critics say widespread corruption among police and officials, including the sale of South African passports, has undermined counter-terrorism efforts.
Sandee said the match between the United States and England on June 12 could be a particular target, along with fixtures involving the Danish and Dutch teams, should militants aim to avenge perceived insults against Islam.
Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton