The Magazine

Pretoria Unguarded

Terrorists take refuge in South Africa.

May 28, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 35 • By JONATHAN SCHANZER
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Even South African Muslim leaders admit there is a problem in their community. As activist Naeem Jeenah writes on his website, "We do have people in our community who are sympathetic to al Qaeda and the Taliban; we do have people in our community who hold the same ideologies as those groups."

Indeed, the problem is more systemic. Pretoria and Washington simply do not see eye to eye on virtually any of the critical international security challenges we face today. They have clashed over Iranian nukes (South Africa maintains friendly ties with Iran), the war on terror (South Africa does not agree with the U.S. definition of terrorism), U.N. reform (South Africa appears to be uninterested), and the Arab-Israeli conflict (Pretoria blames Israel).

Some of these policies can be traced to South Africa's identification with the downtrodden. Its population remembers apartheid, and seeks to redress social injustice. There is a deep distrust of the United States, in light of the fact that the State Department labeled the African National Congress (ANC) a terrorist group until the organization was legalized and became a prominent political party in 1990. The State Department's recent charm offensive through public diplomacy has done little to erase that chapter in U.S. history--even though the ANC was unquestionably involved in terrorist acts and had long-standing ties to the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization, and Nelson Mandela embraced both Yasser Arafat and Muammar Qaddafi as loyal friends and supporters of the ANC.

Given this history, there is a deep distrust of America's Middle East policy, particularly its unwavering support for Israel. When former President Jimmy Carter claims in his latest book that Israel "perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed in South Africa," South Africans sit up and take notice.

South Africa's quest for social justice notwithstanding, a terrorist threat looms inside the country. What has been revealed in the press and in U.S. government actions is likely just the tip of the iceberg. And Pretoria further supports terror by reaching out to murderous groups in the Middle East. As a result, Washington must keep an eye on one more potential source of danger: South Afristan.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury intelligence analyst, is director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center, and author of Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror.