South Africa taking terror threat precautions

PRETORIA - South Africa is working with international agencies like Interpol and the FBI to minimise the threat of terror attacks during the World Cup, the country's top policeman said on Monday.

"Nothing informs us that we would be a terrorism risk but in the same vein it would be foolish to say we can't look at that, that we can't work hard so it doesn't happen," Police Commissioner Bheki Cele told Reuters in an interview.

"The intelligence world is meeting with other big intelligence agencies, we get advice and we meet with them, especially the Americans. We are working very closely with the FBI."

Cele said it was unfair to label South Africa as the world's most violent country and said Brazil, hosts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, had more crime problems.

Critics say high crime levels will be one of the biggest deterrents for foreign fans at the World Cup in June.

Official statistics show more than 18,000 people were murdered in South Africa in the 12 months to March 2009. That is around 50 a day, more than the United States which has six times the population.

Cele, who was appointed last year, said it would be foolish to say crime was not a problem but added police did not get enough credit for having succeeded in reducing the number of murders in the last six years.

He added that 41,000 police would be dedicated to World Cup safety and 1.3 billion rand ($170.1 million) spent on operations and equipment, such as new helicopters, planes and water cannons.

Cele said South Africa was working with Interpol to share intelligence on crime and terror threats.

"Two weeks back I was in Lyon meeting with the Interpol secretary general, they are putting a lot of coordination into the matter, they are sending their people to work with us," he said.


Cele said his country's long record of hosting major political and sporting events should speak for itself.

"History must be on our side, 140 serious events that have been in South Africa, arranged and properly protected by the South Africa police," he said.

While not on the same scale as the 2010 finals, these included the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2003 Cricket World Cup and football's 1996 African Nations Cup.

South Africa's government and World Cup organisers have said fans will be safe and that foreign media have been unfair in their criticism of crime.

Cele said there were no official international statistics to compare crime in different countries but suggested Brazil would face more problems when hosting the World Cup and Olympics.

"I would say crime in Brazil would be worse ... I think it is the only country where a helicopter was shot by criminals," he said. "Usually a helicopter is shot in the battlefields.

"When people say South Africa leads, where do they base that when there are no international statistics on crime?"

Suspected drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter in Rio de Janeiro in October.

Cele laughed off the marketing of various forms of personal protection, such as "stab vests" by a British company, to fans.

"I wonder how much money they are putting into that project? If they are a company their auditors or shareholders are going to fire somebody ... because nobody is going to buy them," he said.

Cele added he was confident everything possible was being done to ensure a safe World Cup.

"When night comes I sleep peacefully when it comes to (thinking about) 2010," he said.