South African police seize weapons, explosives; link suspects to right-wing groups

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African police have confiscated a large cache of weapons and arrested suspects linked to right-wing groups, the police ministry said Thursday.

Zweli Mnisi, a spokesman for Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, told The Associated Press that police acting on tips raided sites in the capital and a western town and found large caches of explosives, illegal guns and ammunition. He said there was a "strong linkage to right-wing operations."

Mnisi refused to say what or whom might have been targeted.

"At this stage we won't divulge much as it may compromise investigations," he said.

The news comes a month before South Africa hosts football's World Cup. Security has been a high concern, because of South Africa's high crime rate and worries racial tension could explode into violence.

Earlier Thursday, Mthethwa referred to the World Cup during his regular budget speech in parliament, saying his forces were prepared for the tournament, which begins June 11.

"Our readiness ranges from personnel to state-of the-art equipment, information communication technology and cooperation with the security agencies from the 31 participating countries," he said.

Last month, police reported two caches of explosives, weapons and ammunition had been found in Worcester, the western town Mnisi mentioned. One cache was stored in the town's magistrate court building, and the head of security at the court, a former soldier, was arrested.

Another former soldier was arrested after weapons and explosives were found at his home in Worcester. Police said then they could not confirm any links to white right-wing organizations, but were investigating that possibility.

The April 3 death of a white supremacist leader, Eugene Terreblanche, was followed by calls for revenge by some militant whites. But the death, which police blame on black farm workers they say had had a wage dispute with Terreblanche, did not spark racial clashes.

In 2002, a plot was uncovered in which an extremist white group was apparently planning to set off a car bomb at a local football game. Football is seen as the sport of black South Africans.

Anneli Botha, an expert on terrorism at South Africa's independent Institute for Security Studies, said she did not think white extremists would target the World Cup because she did not think they would attack foreigners. But Botha, a former police office, said police had to, and were, preparing for any possibility.