Immigration officers intercepted IS suspect at OR Tambo‚ says Gigaba

Malusi Gigaba
Malusi Gigaba

A Syrian suspected member of terror group Islamic State was refused entry at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in December.

The man was carrying Syrian and Uruguayan passports‚ Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Wednesday.

“This goes to show the important role immigration plays in security‚” Gigaba told a media briefing in Pretoria.

“Before the 2016/17 festive period‚ South Africa had beefed up security by rolling out biometrics at selected points ... People feel safe when coming to South Africa.”

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The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that a bomb maker working for IS was arrested at a Turkish airport last month as he was about to board a flight to Johannesburg.

The suspect‚ an Iraqi named Abu Osama‚ was allegedly planning an attack in South Africa.

“Our intelligence officials believe Abu wasn’t coming to South Africa to recruit for IS‚ but to identify a specific target that would later be attacked‚” Iraqi ambassador Saad Kindeel told the Sunday Times.

Osama’s arrest took place shortly after immigration officials at OR Tambo stopped the Syrian‚ who had flown in from the US via Turkey on December 16.

Gigaba said more than five-and-a-half million people moved through ports of entry over the festive period — up nearly 4% on a year earlier.

The busiest port was OR Tambo‚ which recorded almost a million movements. Beit Bridge (Zimbabwe) and Lebombo (Mozambique) border posts were the second and third busiest.

A total of 5‚504‚022 movements were recorded between December 9 and January 14‚ an annual increase of 3.78%.

“The 2016/17 festive season was marked by increased movement of people and goods across borders for different reasons‚ varying from cross-border employment and business to academic and educational endeavours‚” Gigaba said.

“We also observed a high number of travellers crossing borders for holiday and tourist purposes — which is one of the important priorities for the country.”

Gigaba said that R25-million and 58 immigration officials would be allocated to OR Tambo to increase capacity and improve efficiency.

The top ten countries for festive visitors to South Africa were Lesotho‚ Zimbabwe‚ Mozambique‚ Swaziland‚ Botswana‚ UK‚ US‚ Namibia‚ Germany and Zambia.

Other statistics:

- Other African countries contributed the large majority of international arrivals — 82% — followed by Europe and North America.

- Despite reaching its 10 millionth passenger in a calendar year during December‚ it was not Cape Town International but Upington International which grew its arrival base the most‚ by over 200%. Port Elizabeth International Airport was down nearly 100% for arrivals.

- People between the ages of 30-39 accounted for 2‚298 of the 6‚402 people who were refused access. One of those was an individual between the ages of 90-99.

- The top port for refusals of entry was Beit Bridge‚ followed by Lebombo‚ Ficksburg (Lesotho) and OR Tambo International Airport.

TMG Digital/The Times

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