Wednesday, June 23

Rumours of Al-Qaeda

RW Johnson believes that there is a connection between Al-Qaeda and Zimbabwe, and that the South African government is happy to overlook it. (via Mzanzi Africa)

Another straw in the wind was the revelation that closed circuit TV cameras within the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town had recorded the image of a known al-Qaeda suspect lolling against the restaurant's bar a month before the bomb-blast there. The police, who identified the man as a Moroccan based in Zimbabwe, strangely refused to act on this information. It is tempting to link this attitude with Pretoria's rapid volte face on the issue of 9/11. By January 2002 ANC pressure on ex-president Mandela had forced him publicly to recant his previous condemnation of Bin Laden, while deputy president Zuma announced that the ANC no longer saw 9/11 as a terrorist act but as a blow in a wider struggle against imperialism. He simultaneously denounced Britain and America for their war on the Taliban which, he said, was aimed "against innocent Afghan civilians". Given president Mbeki's support for president Mugabe it is possible that Pretoria was not keen to see a line of enquiry opened up in the Planet Hollywood affair which led back to the presence of al-Qaeda activists in Zimbabwe.

Rumours, innuendo and conjecture. Any of it true? Who knows. What I do know is that Mugabe and his goons might be dangerous and desperate but subtle, competent or smart they are not. If there is a connection the chance of it staying quite is about as good as South Africa winning the world cup in 2010. Could happen, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Would an Al-Qaeda presence in Zimbabwe necessarily be a bad thing? It would definitely be a serious error on the part of Mugabe and Al-Qaeda. Zimbabwe isn't the Congo, and contrary to what the rest of the world imagines Zimbabwe to be, Zimbabwe is a comparatively well developed and accessible country.

The political protection that Mr Mbeki can provide Mugabe is tenuous at best, and should America believe that there is a serious Al-Qaeda presence the amount of pressure that America would have to place on Mbeki to jump the Zim ship can probably be summed up into one sentence; "Lets talk NEPAD".

America also has a convenient regional ally in Botswana, which has been none too happy with Mr Mugabe. As luck would have it America already has a military base in the country. Aggressive support for the MDC would also change the situation in Zimbabwe dramatically. This would probably lead to civil war, but with American military support and the acceptance of the South African government international intervention (possibly under the flag of the SADC) would be politically possible.

As for Al-Qaeda, escape from Zimbabwe would not be as easy as from the other places they have been operating in. Neither can they move in Zimbabwe inconspicuously. As Johnson points out. Ten shaky looking muslim men stands out like a sore thumb in Zimbabwe.

Keeping all this in mind, Mr Johnsons article perhaps makes sense in a way. Im sure Mr Johnson would love to see Mugabe make this mistake, and he is perhaps not totally objective when it come to the subject matter at hand.

Where would I be if I was an Al-Qaeda cell looking to set up an operation in Southern Africa? Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg comes readily to mind. Large criminal organizations... Busy international travel routes and a very sympathetic local minority... The benefits go on and on.


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