World Cup Attractive for Terrorists and Criminals: Security Experts Warn Fans to Be 'Vigilant'

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, including more than 100,000 Americans, are pouring into South Africa to enjoy the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament, which starts Friday. But there are concerns that fans and members of the 32 national teams competing in the Cup may be targets for criminals and terrorists.

The North African Al-Qaeda group Al Maghreb, which is based in Algeria, issued a threat to the United States verses England game being played on June 12th.

In an on-line post from April, the group threatened to use a form of an 'undetectable' explosive that will cause "hundreds of deaths." The stadium hosting the match, located in Rustenberg, about 40 miles outside of Johannesburg, seats 45,000 people and is expected to be sold-out Saturday.

But the U.S. and England fans and teams aren't the only attractive target. Anneli Botha, a senior researcher on terrorism at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, told ABC News there have been threats against the Dutch and Danish as well, because of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard's satiric depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper and because of Dutch support for the cartoonist. The Dutch team plays Denmark Monday, June 14, in the first match for both squads.

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for Americans expected to travel to South Africa for the World Cup.

"Large-scale public events like the World Cup may present a wide range of attractive targets for terrorists," the warning stated. "There is a heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa in the near future."

But there are some domestic and home-grown terrorism concerns as well. Radicalized Muslim groups from South Africa's Western Cape are considered a threat, as well as right-wing neo-nazi groups. There is also evidence of criminal elements within the country's substantial Pakistani and Somali communities. Last year, all U.S. embassies and consulates in the country closed down for two days after intelligence officials intercepted communication by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Somali group al Shabaab threatening the embassy.

"It's not a question of looking at only al Qaeda, but also looking at domestic groups," said Botha. But she added that these groups have historically been concerned with domestic issues only, and are unlikely to view the World Cup as an attractive target. "South African issues are very localized. I don't think the groups would start targeting the international community."

FIFA, the international soccer organization that runs the World Cup, has said it takes all threats to the tournament seriously, but will not curb or cancel the games.

'We have freedom in the world to celebrate what we want," FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke has told reporters. "As the management of the organization that governs world football, we know there is a threat. We will not stop the organization of the World Cup because we got the threat."

Law enforcement's response to the threat has been global. South African and international security and intelligence agencies have been gearing up with both visible and hidden security precautions.

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