SA: Ramaphosa slams US for ‘panic-driven’ Sandton terror alert

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JOHANNESBURG: President Cyril Ramaphosa has criticised the US, saying it jumped the gun by issuing a terror alert for Sandton, Johannesburg, before speaking to local authorities.

The US embassy on Wednesday posted the alert on its website and identified the potential target as Sandton, a suburb in the country’s financial hub of Johannesburg.

Sandton, a collection of high-end shops and lofty office blocks and banks, is commonly referred to as the richest square mile on the African continent.

The alert said the attack could occur there on Saturday.

“It is quite unfortunate the US issued that type of warning without having any type of discussion with us,” he said during a press conference.

“Any form of alert will come from the government of the republic of South Africa and it is unfortunate that another government should issue such a threat as to send panic amongst our people,” said Ramaphosa.

He was answering a question during a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is visiting the country.

He said Pretoria is “working around the clock to verify and to look very closely at this message that came from the United States”.

‘Very concerned’

The embassy said the US government had “received information that terrorists may be planning to conduct an attack targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg”.

The alert was quickly shared on social media and on WhatsApp groups across Johannesburg.

Pretoria had on Wednesday appeared to downplay the alert calling it “part of the US government’s standard communication to its citizens”.

Several alerts have been issued about possible imminent terrorist attacks on South Africa in recent years, but none have materialised.

A local highly respected news website News24 cited unnamed sources Thursday suggesting that a gay parade slated for Saturday in Sandton and a comedy show by a leading South African comedian of Jewish descent, could have been the potential targets.

It also said peace talks between warring Ethiopian parties, ongoing in Pretoria were also “flagged by South Africa’s intelligence agencies as a potential target”.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told local media on Thursday that “we are very concerned about terrorism… our security organs are paying attention to this matter”.

Nigeria alert

The US embassy on Sunday also issued a security alert in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, urging American citizens in Nigeria to avoid “non-essential travel” and crowds.

South African is helping neighbouring Mozambique fight an Islamist insurgency and has deployed more than 1,000 troops there since July last year.

After a 2016 alert issued by the US and Britain, South Africa’s government reacted angrily to “attempts to generate perceptions of government ineptitude, alarmist impressions and public hysteria on the basis of a questionable single source”.