Iraqi security forces arrested Saudi citizen Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani. He is an an al-Qaeda militant. According AP agency he said terrorists wanted to target Danish and Dutch teams during the tournament to avenge insults against the Prophet Muhammad.
1. Do you think the World Cup in South Africa is an potentially attractive target for terrorists, and why?
2. Is the fact the World Cup will take place in South Africa increase somehow the risk of terrorists activities? One could argue for example SA security forces do not have much experiences with combating terrorism and we have seen in the past big al-Qaeda attacks in Africa.
Derick Hulme, Professor of Political Science, Alma College
1. The World Cup shares many of the same attractive qualities as the Olympics in terms of being a target for terrorists. It is extremely high profile, draws a global media audience, and, even more so than the Olympics, is the culmination of a lengthy qualifying process (which has built interest over an extended period) and is a lengthy tournament (which also builds interest). In many ways, the World Cup is the single MOST attractive sporting target for terrorists.
2. The fact that the Cup is being hosted by South Africa indeed presents especially significant security issues. In addition to the relative lack of sophistication of South Africa’s security forces, the length of the tournament presents significant challenges in terms of mobilizing adequate security and intelligence capabilities for such an extended period of time. In addition, the obvious focus on the soccer games themselves will stretch existing capabilities, increasing the vulnerability of other potentially valuable targets (particularly those within easy media access of the Cup itself.) In the post-1972 Munich Olympic Games era, particularly given the incredible advances in communication technologies, the entire REGION within which high profile sporting events occurs becomes an attractive target (and the better the security at the event itself, the more attractive secondary, but nonetheless useful, targets become.)
Adrian Guelke, Professor, Centre for the Study of Ethnic Conflict, Queen’s University of Belfast
1. For any group seeking to publicize its cause through violence the World Cup (like the Olympics) is a very attractive target since it is the centre of global attention during the weeks of the competition. One would imagine that any act of violence (even of a form less lethal than terrorism directed at innocent bystanders) would engender a massive amount of media coverage. However, al-Qaeda tends to be associated with mass-casualty terrorism that does not require the special setting of the World Cup to get banner headlines. (The only exceptions are attacks in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq where such events have become almost routine.)
2. South Africa is better equipped and resourced than any other sub-Saharan African country to deal with threats of this kind. In particular, the authorities have generally been effective over the last decade or so in dealing with the violence of fringe groups within the country. The most relevant group in this context (with some connections to violent jihadis) is PAGAD (People against Gangsters and Drugs). However, it would obviously be foolish to make any predictions about what might happen since it is impossible to wholly discount the possibility of an act of terrorism happening anywhere in the world at any time and the record of recent decades underlines that point. But the record also shows that terrorism across national boundaries disconnected from an existing conflict is relatively rare.