Religious leaders warn of Islamic State recruitment in South Africa

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Muslim leaders across Cape Town have warned parents to monitor their children’s political views after a teenage girl was stopped from traveling to global terror group Islamic State (IS) this week.

State security department officials stopped a 15-year-old girl from the quiet Kenwyn suburb from boarding a flight from Cape Town last Sunday.

She was headed to Johannesburg, from where she was to fly either to Saudi Arabia or Turkey, and make her way to Syria where IS has a stronghold.

The Cape Town-based Muslim Judicial Council met on Thursday with various leaders to discuss the matter.

Imams at various mosques yesterday focused their sermons on IS, aiming to raise awareness of its recruitment of local teenagers.

The teenager and her family have meanwhile left Kenwyn “to get some privacy,” said local community leader Hanif Loonat.

MJC leader Maulana Ihsaan Hendricks said they “convened an urgent awareness meeting on the… (IS) recruitment methodology and its impact on South African society”.

“The meeting focused on the potential dangers facing our children, youth and community following an incident where a 15-year-old teenager was suspected of being lured to join IS via social media,” he said.

The MJC said it had “made attempts to contact the family of the young lady at the centre of this incident but our efforts have not yielded any results”.

Weekend Argus attempts to contact the family this week, via contact numbers on a missing person’s flyer with the young girl’s face, were also unsuccessful.

Hendricks said the MJC believed IS “does not represent Islam, a position that is held globally”.

“We are concerned that more than condemnation is needed to protect our community from IS very aggressive and sophisticated recruiting methodology and their extensive use of the social media to lure our youth to join the terror group,” said Hendricks.

“As the religious leaders we have a responsibility to guide, protect and support our community during the challenges that we are now faced with. The MJC has requested that this awareness and message be taken to those who were not amongst the 75 religious scholars present (at the meeting).”

Shaykh Ihsaan Taliep, president of United Ulama Council of SA (UUCSA) and also an MJC leader, said IS “principles have no connection to the tenets of Islam”.

“It is vital for religious leaders to take responsibility for guiding the community with the correct information in order to safe guard them from the dangers lurking in the cyber world, which enters the very bedrooms of our children,” said Taliep.

“This recent incident has drawn our attention and highlighted the dangers of irresponsible usage of the Internet, especially by innocent, vulnerable and impressionable teenagers who could access harmful information or even worse be in contact with recruiting agents who lure young people into their destructive networks.”

The MJC said parents should “be in touch with their children, know who they associate with, what their political views are and what their interests are”.

It said it “extends its concerns and prayers for the wellbeing of the young lady at the centre of this very disturbing incident”.

“We wish the family well and hope that they will be able to rise above the difficulties that they are facing,” it said.

Loonat, former chairperson of the Western Cape community policing board and Kenwyn resident, said he had been in contact with the family.

“The family is not in the area at the moment. They want to have privacy. They have switched their phones. They are cutting all links with everybody,” he said.

“They were traumatised and shocked. They are waiting for the outcome from the authorities. That’s about it.”

Loonat said they were aware of “many (South African) kids being enticed” to join IS.

“A lot of kids are being approached. There are kids from Johannesburg and Durban who have gone. It is now coming to Cape Town. Many parents are keeping quiet (about it),” said Loonat.

“It’s not anything new to us… They (IS) buy them the tickets. They have big money. The types of arms and ammunition they have show they have money.”

He added: “There are many people who are indoctrinated to think their cause is Islamic. It is not.”

Loonat said parents should monitor their children’s online activity.

“There are signs of radical behavior online. Some would use words like ‘I am prepared to kill’. They need to be approached and we need to tell them don’t get carried away,” said Loonat.

Imam Farouk Rylands, who leads the congregation at the Waterloo Road mosque in Kenwyn, said he held a meeting with locals at the mosque on Tuesday.

Imam Farouk Rylands in front of the Waterloo Road mosque in Kenwyn believes Islamic State recruitment in the neighborhood was an isolated case. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Imam Farouk Rylands in front of the Waterloo Road mosque in Kenwyn believes Islamic State recruitment in the neighborhood was an isolated case. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“We told them this was a wake up call for our parents. Parents need to know more about their children. It was a shock to the community that a young girl made this decision,” said Rylands.

He added: “Some people have tried to make a link between what happened and the mosque. There’s no link.”

Brian Dube, spokesman for the state security department, said after the teenager was stopped from boarding her flight in Cape Town “she was spoken to by the officials and handed over to the care of her family”.

“This was the first case of its nature. However there have been reports of people who have left the country to take up part in wars as militias,” said Dube.

“Recruitment and radicalisation of particularly young people is a global security concern.

“We appeal to parents in particular to exercise caution on their children with use of social media platforms as these are proving as the most used means for recruitment given their reach.”

State security minister David Mahlobo said earlier this week they were alerted about the girl’s disappearance and then alerted all airports.

“An investigation is underway to determine further issues pertaining to recruitment and funding methods,” said Mahlobo.

He said South African would “not allow itself to be used as a recruitment platform” for IS.

The South African embassy in Turkey to find out how many locals have been caught in that country for trying to join IS.

The embassy’s response was that the ambassador was not in the country to respond to queries.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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