, BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa, Dec 17 – South African police on Monday said they had arrested four armed right-wing extremists suspected of planning attacks, amid claims that an ANC leadership meeting may have been targeted.
Four men, aged 40-50 years old, were arrested on Sunday, “believed to be right-wing extremists, suspected of acts of terrorism,” according to Free State police spokesman Brigadier Billy Jones.
“Their premises were searched and evidence supporting the investigation was seized.”
The arrests came after a nearly two-year nationwide investigation, Jones told AFP.
But there were conflicting reports about what the suspects’ target or targets may have been, with ANC saying its party conference may have been in the firing line.
Delegates at the Bloemfontein meeting include President Jacob Zuma and most of the South African government.
Jones denied suggestions the meeting was under threat.
“We are not linking this to the ANC conference. The investigation is taking place at several points across the country,” Jones said.
“Four people were arrested, not linked to the conference at all.”
National police spokesman Phuti Setati confirmed that account of events.
But ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said the party had been given a preliminary report that the men may have been on route to blow up the conference venue.
“We are still waiting for verification of the facts and as to who are these people. Why did they want to do that and how they were going to do that,” he told AFP.
Security has been extremely tight around the conference, with razor wire thrown up around a perimeter guarded by armed police.
Only a few pre-screened vehicles are allowed to enter what is normally the campus of the University of the Free State.
“You’ve got in here the president and the deputy president of the country. You’ve got the entire cabinet, the entire top leadership of the ANC nationally and you have diplomats, foreign delegates and you’ve got 4,500 delegates.
“And that calls for maximum security because if anything were to happen you’d have a huge impact on the country and the government,” Khoza said.