‘Security threat’ shuts down US facilities in South Africa

Johannesburg, Sep 22 (DPA) In a surprise move prompted by an “undisclosed security threat”, the US government shut down all its facilities in South Africa Tuesday.

In the statement posted on its website, the US embassy in Pretoria said: “Based on information recently received by the Regional Security Office, all US government facilities in South Africa will be closed on Tuesday, September 22, 2009.”

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“Our current assumption is that all US government facilities will be open on Wednesday, September 23, 2009,” it added.

The announcement came as a surprise as the US government is not known to be under a specific threat in South Africa. The closure also affects the consulate general in Johannesburg.

US citizens living in South Africa had not received a message from the embassy informing them of a threat against US citizens.

The US embassy spokeswoman and South African foreign affairs spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the South African Police Service (SAPS), which was briefing parliament Tuesday morning on the country’s latest crime statistics, said the SAPS would issue a statement on the matter later.

A South African embassy employee in Pretoria said he was contacted by the embassy Monday around 6 p.m. and told “everything was closing down due to a security threat” but given no further details.

The employee, who asked not to be named but who said he has worked at the embassy for over a decade, said the news came as a surprise and that he was awaiting a call to tell him when to return to work.

It was unclear whether the threat was of terrorism in nature.

Security analysts have raised concerns in recent years that southern African countries, with their relatively porous borders, could become a transit point for Muslim extremists.

One of four men convicted of helping carry out the terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 224 people was arrested in South Africa.

Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian national, was arrested in Cape Town in 1999 and extradited to the US, where he was sentenced to life in prison.

The threat follows concerns in some Western countries over lax security in the provision of identity documents in South Africa, where fake passports and ID books are widely available.

The British government in March imposed new visa requirements for South Africans travelling to the country because of concerns over corruption in the Home Affairs department.

The South African government has vowed to root out corruption.