South Africa drops Pagad vigilante leader murder charges

Pagad leader Abdus Salaam Ebrahim Abdus Salaam Ebrahim has served a prison term for public violence

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A South African court has withdrawn murder charges against the leader of controversial vigilante group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad).

Abdus Salaam Ebrahim was arrested following the murders of three Tanzanians in Cape Town last week.

A state prosecutor said the charges were being provisionally withdrawn to allow for further investigation.

Pagad is Muslim-dominated group which was formed in 1995 to fight crime in and around Cape Town.

It was implicated in a number of bombings in the mid-1990s, including a blast at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in 1998, which it denied.

The government once described the group as a terrorist organisation and it maintained a less visible presence until 2011 when it began a campaign to "take back control of the streets", says the BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg.

Cheers

Who are Pagad?

Pagad members pictured in 1996
  • 1995: The group is formed to fight crime in and around Cape Town
  • 1996: Shares ties with Qibla, a militant Muslim group
  • 1996 - 2000: Twenty-four gang lords are killed in Cape Town - Pagad is implicated in the murders
  • 1996-1997: Pagad allegedly carries out 222 acts of violence against drug dealers using guns and sometimes explosives
  • 1998: Allegedly bombed Planet Hollywood restaurant
  • 2000: South Africa's government declares Pagad a terrorist organisation.
  • 2000-2002: Some 120 Pagad members are charged for a series of crimes including murder - the group goes underground
  • 2009-2011: Pagad begins its comeback campaign and rebrands itself as the "new Pagad" with new leaders
  • 2011: The group, like the Pagad of old, organises marches to the homes of suspected drug dealers demanding they stop their operations

Mr Ebrahim made a brief appearance in a Cape Town court on Thursday after spending about a week in jail in connection with the murders of three Tanzanian men, alleged to have been drug dealers, and the attempted murder of South African woman.

Pagad supporters filled in the public gallery inside the courtroom and shouted: "Allahu Akbar (God is great)", when the magistrate agreed to have the charges withdrawn, South Africa's Cape Argus newspaper reports.

The Tanzanian men were shot and killed outside a shop in Athlone, a gang-ridden suburb of Cape Town, on 13 August.

Two men died on the scene and the third in hospital. A South African woman was seriously injured during the attack.

At the time, Ashim Nassoro, the owner of the shop, said he saw men armed with AK-47s and 9mm pistols firing shots from outside the premises, local reports say.

Another Pagad member, Zakariyah Albertyn, who was held for questioning on Monday in connection with the triple murder, was released without being charged on Wednesday.

Pagad's campaign came to prominence in 1996 when a local gang leader, Rashaad Staggie, was beaten and burnt to death by a mob.

Officials have been cautious about the resurgence of Pagad in the Western Cape province and there are fears that its involvement in crime fighting will only make matters worse, our correspondent says.

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