South Africans are struggling to understanding the extent of a radical religious terror group which had allegedly planned to unleash race-based mayhem on ‘Black Friday’ last week.
Operating out of Mpumalanga Province, which borders Mozambique, leader of the National Christian Resistance Movement (NCRM), also known as the ‘Crusaders’, Harry Johannes Knoesen, was arrested last Thursday, just hours before the group’s race-based onslaught of attacks on black South Africans was allegedly due to take place.
South Africa’s premier crime investigations unit, the Hawks, followed up with the arrest of another leading figure in the NCRM, Mr Riana Heymans, and two “accomplices”, apparently brothers, in Kliprivier in Johannesburg. A further arrest took place Sunday evening.
Investigators believe there may be as many as 100 members of the group nationally and that it may also have been planning to seize military installations.
Various firearms and ammunition, documents and other items were seized.
The possession and manufacture of explosive as well as illegal possession of firearms and ammunition are among charges under investigation.
The South African security authorities had been aware of the group but had been forced to move swiftly once it was learnt that NCRM was about to unleash a terror campaign against targets, including major shopping malls and informal settlements.
While security and crime intelligence had penetrated the new right-wing group's ranks to some degree – the authorities were not ready to round up all those believed to be part of the ‘Crusaders’, a deliberately provocative moniker adopted by the group.
Since the arrests and a brief appearance in court by four suspects on Monday, investigators have gone quiet as they work through who else may have been involved in planning and carrying out the attacks, described as “diabolical schemes”.
The group, with ties to other far-right elements, locally and abroad, advocated the destruction of black communities across South Africa.
But it remains unclear how much of the group’s supposed “crusade” was actual planning for real attacks and how much was merely rhetorical ‘hot air’, with authorities declining comment.
Mr Knoesen, 60, was captured on Thursday last week after being in contact with several other groups described as “neo-Nazis”.
“Factories” used to construct explosives, devices with detonators and unlicensed firearms had been discovered in connection with the ‘crusaders’, said investigators.
Mr Knoesen had previously served in the South Africa National Defence Force.
He was at the time of his arrest a “pastor” for a community which adheres to his far-right white nationalist beliefs.