Posted on June 14, 2023

South Africa in the Spotlight Over Terror Funding

AFP, June 13, 2023

South Africa has never been touched by Islamist attacks. Its three-decade-old democracy is solid, and its financial system is respected.

Yet experts say the continent’s most industrialised nation is now a nerve centre for jihadist financing in Africa.

“South Africa is open hunting ground,” Pretoria-based counter-terrorism expert Jasmine Opperman told AFP.

Islamist financiers gather money in the country and transfer it into “the hands of terrorism,” she said, adding it was internationally recognised “that we are now a hub”.

It’s a stark indictment for a country that, apart from the odd alerts issued by the US embassy, hardly registers on the radar of extremist activities worldwide.

Yet Opperman’s assessment is widely shared by analysts across Africa, Europe and the United States.

Red flags were first raised last year when the US government levied sanctions on several South Africans it accused of belonging to an Islamic State (IS) cell.

The group facilitated the transfer of money to IS branches across Africa, according to Washington.

It “provided technical, financial, or material support to the terrorist group,” the US treasury said in November.


Some analysts have suggested that jihadist financing flourished because South African authorities grew complacent at the lack of visible Islamist activity.


One of the clearest signs something was amiss came in March this year when the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global illicit cash flow watchdog that aims to tackle money laundering and terrorist financing, placed South Africa on its “grey list” over gaps in monitoring and stemming illegal financial activities.

A cocktail of conditions, including a functional financial system, liberties, porous borders, corruption and criminality have made South Africa fertile ground for Islamists to raise funds, experts say.

A lot of the money comes from organised crime syndicates which raise funds through drugs and precious minerals trafficking as well as kidnapping for ransom.


“Organised crime itself is rife,” in South Africa, said Opperman.


Tore Hamming, a fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, told AFP those involved in jihadist financing were “pretty well-known extremist figures from South Africa who have been active in the extremist milieu for a good number of years.”

The jihadists capitalise on “open financial structures”, he added.


In a recent note the US-based intelligence and security think-tank Soufan Center concluded that South Africa has “emerged as a financial hub for ISIS in Africa”, using another name for IS.


IS has seen its most striking rise recently across Africa, with a presence in the Sahel region, through to Lake Chad, all the way to the DR Congo, Mozambique and Somalia.


But South Africa’s role in international terrorism dates back more than a decade, according to Ryan Cummings, analyst with the Cape Town based Signal Risk security advisory firm.

It has been a “perceived financial hub for extremist groups for quite a while,” he said citing intelligence evidence that suggested Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab used South Africa to move funds after the 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in Kenya’s capital.

There are reports of “an increase of funds… flowing from South Africa” to Mozambique, and the IS affiliate in the DR Congo, said Cummings.