WASHINGTON – The FBI investigated multiple death threats against Nelson Mandela during his 1990 visit to the United States and relied on an informant for details about the anti-apartheid leader's trip, according to newly released documents.
The FBI released hundreds of pages of records tied to Mandela's visit, which came months after was released from a 27-year prison sentence in South Africa and four years before he became president.
Many of the documents are redacted, but they do show the FBI investigated multiple threats to assassinate Mandela, including a handwritten note that says, in part, "Remember John F. Kennedy in Dallas???" One threatening caller said there were two bombs along a New York City parade route, another warned of a "hit squad" and a threat was phoned into a Georgia university where Mandela was scheduled to address a rally, according to the documents.
"The caller stated that he and his two companions had spent their lives trying to stop Mandela," reads a memo about a threat called into the Georgia Institute of Technology. "He stated that they had various means with which to accomplish this task and had received military training."
The FBI paid close attention to his movements in the U.S. A May 31, 1990, memo from the FBI's Atlanta field office reveals that an unidentified source — "who is newly opened, and whose reliability is not yet established" — provided detailed information on Mandela's itinerary, including a scheduled wreath-laying ceremony in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and request from Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, for a private meeting with Mandela.
Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after the end of apartheid in 1994, died in December at age 95. Jailed under racist rule, he played a critical role after his release from prison in moving the country out of the apartheid era and into a multiracial democracy.
In the U.S., he met dignitaries, addressed rallies and raised money. In New York, he was feted with a ticker-tape parade and given a key to the city. In Washington, he received assurances from President George H.W. Bush of continuing U.S. economic sanctions against South Africa's white government
The documents were released this week to an MIT doctoral student as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The FBI later made the records available on its website, as the bureau commonly does after the deaths of high-profile individuals on whom it maintains files.
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