Lewthwaite was allegedly in possession of a South African passport. On the face of it, South African passports are fairly secure.
“The weak link is false identity documents,” said Nicola Lochner of Visa South Africa. “If an ID book is forged, false, or illegal, it is not too hard to obtain a legitimate passport. Home Affairs is quite competent when it comes to issuing passports, the problem is obtaining visas.”
In 2009 the Department of Home Affairs began printing hi-tech passports, apparently in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) standards for technology and security. According to Home Affairs, verified fingerprints and high resolution colour photographs take care of identification of the passport holder while laser-engraved information on a polycarbonate page makes the passport tamperproof.
“SA officials as early as 2004 have acknowledged that al-Qaeda militants and other terrorists travelling through Europe have obtained South African passports,” said Anneli Botha of the Institute of Security Studies in a 2011 paper.
Barry Gilder, then director general of the Department of Home Affairs, and also a former deputy director in the National Intelligence Agency, confirmed in July 2004 authorities were aware SA passports were found in the hands of al-Qaeda suspects.
Botha added that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was appointment as Minister of Home Affairs, she introduced a zero-tolerance policy against corruption and a counter-corruption unit working with the police and intelligence services. “But it is corruption, not the lack of technology, which remains the weakest link,” said Botha.