Security forces paraded their World Cup arsenal through the streets of South Africa’s financial capital on Monday, hoping to reassure fans the country will be safe during football’s premier event
The show of force came the same day an Iraqi official told reporters in Baghdad that security forces had detained an al-Qaeda militant suspected of planning an attack targeting the June 11-July 11 World Cup.
South Africa’s high crime rate has been under intense scrutiny since the country was awarded the right to host Africa’s first World Cup.
Police have recruited and trained 44,000 officers for the event, and bought vehicles, water cannons and other equipment, some of which was on display.
Johannesburg has two World Cup stadiums and a third in nearby Pretoria means that this central region of South Africa will host more games than any other.
Most of the 32 teams competing in the tournament have their training bases in this area and the majority of tourists are expected to stay in Johannesburg or nearby.
“South Africa will host the safest and most secure FIFA World Cup,” Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said. “The force is ready.
That is the message we shared with South Africans over the past year and that we will be articulating to our 2010 visitors. Police will be everywhere, ready to respond to any eventuality.”
Mthethwa said his forces were ready for everything from petty criminals to terrorists.
“South Africa will be hosting the whole world, and therefore will take no chances,” Mthethwa said. Last month, Mthethwa said officials were aware of al-Qaeda-linked threats against the World Cup, and in particular against the United States-England group game, on Jihadist forums.
In Iraq Monday, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad security services, told a news conference that Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani, an officer in the Saudi army and al-Qaeda militant, had been detained on suspicion of planning a “terrorist act” in South Africa during the World Cup.
Al-Moussawi said al-Qahtani entered Iraq in 2004 and is suspected in several attacks in the country.
Vish Naidoo, a spokesman for South African police, said the report from Baghdad would not affect World Cup security planning because terrorism had always been part of the calculations.
South Africa’s national police chief Bheki Cele pledged on Monday to leave “no oxygen” for criminals, and added the World Cup would leave a security legacy.
“The resources have been put here, the training will be there to benefit the people of South Africa,” Cele said.
Some 200 vehicles were on display Monday, along with two helicopters and special police squads demonstrating parachuting from aircraft and rappelling down buildings.
Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble has praised South Africa’s preparations for the World Cup, which have included seeking training from other countries.