A Pizzeria Bomb Blast

This time, the bombers were being watched. In spite of the Sunday-brunch crowd thronging St. Elmo's, a pizzeria on Cape Town's trendy Camp's Bay seafront, a waitress noticed when two couples left a black bag under their table. As the diners crossed the street to their car, she picked up the bag and was surprised at its weight. She called over another waitress, who unzipped the bag. "We saw a cell phone and the gas canister," the witness told reporters from her hospital bed. "We screamed, 'A bomb!' and threw it away. That's the last thing I remember."

It wasn't the right way to handle a bomb. "The rule is, do not touch a suspicious article," a police expert lectured to a group of nightclub and restaurant owners last week. That was only the start of a public-awareness and security drive that could again make metal detectors and police roadblocks routine in Africa's most laid-back tourist mecca. The blast, which followed the bombing of a gay club earlier in November and seven other such attacks over the last 18 months, injured 48 people and deflated police claims to have crushed urban terrorism in the city. The attacks raised fears that radicals may be intent on spoiling what promised to be a record-setting tourist season. It was the first assault on a family restaurant, and officials were blunt about the danger. "People will take advantage" of the festive season, said Police Director Simon Mpembe, to "tackle the economy of this country."

No one took responsibility for the blast, but that didn't stop officials from accusing local Islamic fundamentalists. Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete said a "well-known" Cape Town organization was to blame, and suggested the motive was to disrupt a weeklong Parliament of the World's Religions, a symposium of thousands of religious representatives, in the city. During the convention's opening ceremonies, Muslim demonstrators waved signs alleging that the conference was riddled with "Satanists" and that the Chicago-based sponsoring group, the World Council of Religions, is a front for the United States and Israel. Tshwete's provincial counterpart noted that the blast followed the murder conviction of a member of People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, an Islamist group whose armed wing was implicated in a string of bombings and assassinations last year. The group's spokesmen denied involvement in all of the attacks.

Experts say the South African Islamists have retrenched following a year-old police crackdown. Allegedly funded by Iran and trained in Lebanon and Afghanistan, radicals now are organized in cells of from five to seven members, said Peter Gastrow, a director of South Africa's private Institute of Security Studies. "There are some very intelligent people at the top who couldn't care less if the entire ANC government wants to wring their necks," he said. Police said they would step up random searches of motorists and pedestrians. Lawmakers spoke of enacting anti-terror measures that would remove a suspect's right to remain silent and lengthen the period police can hold suspects without trial. Such a move would represent a sad concession for former guerrillas who suffered police repression, then enacted the world's most liberal Constitution. It's now their turn to take off the gloves.