US Warns of Terror Threats in Nigeria and South Africa Without Saying Why

Nigeria and South Africa have reacted with frustration after warnings were issued with zero context or more detail.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
south africa nigeria terror warning us
PHOTO: MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images

Two African governments have been left baffled by the US government’s sudden warnings of imminent terrorist threats in their countries, without warning them in advance or giving any more detail.

US consulates in both Nigeria and South Africa warned their staff this week that attacks on major cities in both countries were likely, seemingly without telling their host governments what the threat was, and spreading “panic”. 

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On Wednesday, the US Embassy in South Africa issued a memo to its staff and US citizens in the country warning of a potential terrorist attack in Johannesburg this weekend. 

“The US government has received information that terrorists may be planning to conduct an attack targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 29 October 2022,” the US Embassy in South Africa said. “There is no further information regarding the timing, method, or target of the potential attack.”

Warnings shortly followed from the UK, Australia, Canada.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called the unexpected alerts “unfortunate” as it was issued “without having any type of discussion with us,” before warning of the dangers such a sudden warning could cause. 

“It is unfortunate that another government should issue such a threat as to send panic amongst our people," Ramaphosa said in a press conference. 

In a broader statement responding to the warning, the South African government said that it had “noted the terror alert issued by the US Embassy,” but appeared to downplay the warning by adding that it was “part of the US government’s standard communication to its citizens” before reiterating that the South African government would take the lead in communicating to the public about any threats. 

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“Threats are assessed continuously and are acted upon to ensure the safety of all,” the presidency said. “Should the need arise; the South African government will be the first to inform the public about any imminent threat.” 

The warning from the US consulate in South Africa came just days after a similar memo was issued in Nigeria. “There is an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja,” the statement, issued on Sunday, said. “Targets may include, but are not limited to, government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants, athletic gatherings, transport terminals, law enforcement facilities, and international organizations.” 

Shortly after releasing the statement, the US government evacuated a number of its staff and citizens from the country. Photos of Americans leaving the country soon spread on social media, prompting Nigeria’s main security agency, the Department of State Services, to release a statement encouraging Nigerians to remain calm. 

“The service calls for calm as it works with other law enforcement agencies and stakeholders to maintain peace and order in and beyond Abuja.” 

Nigeria's Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, complained that the alert and evacuation created “panic”. 

“I can assure all that our military and other security agencies have continued to do everything possible to secure and protect Nigerians and foreigners living in Nigeria,” Mohammed added.