China is believed to be the culprit of a mysterious armed raid that took place at a South African nuclear facility in 2007, which has puzzled security experts for years, according to classified documents leaked to the media. The raid took place on November 8, 2007, at the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center, located outside Johannesburg. That evening, two groups of armed assailants, later described by authorities as “technically sophisticated criminals”, skillfully deactivated numerous layers of physical security around the facility, including a 10,000-volt electrical perimeter fence.
They entered the grounds of the nuclear station and fired at an off-duty night guard who saw them and tried to raise the alarm as he was leaving his post. The injured guard managed to summon a police team patrolling nearby, but by the time it arrived the assailants had managed to escape carrying with them a laptop computer stolen from the research facility’s control room. They were never caught despite an extensive investigation by South African authorities.
In the weeks following the raid, South African officials publicly dismissed the incident as the work of small-time criminals. Abdul Minty, the South African representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) described the raid as a “failed burglary”, while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, which owns the Pelindaba facility, said the incident had been simply “a piece of random criminality”. One theory, which was especially popular in American media circles, was that the raid had been conducted by a terrorist group, or by an organized criminal gang employed by a terrorist group, aimed at acquiring nuclear material or designs that would enable them to build a nuclear weapon.
However, television channel Al Jazeera said recently that it had seen a copy of a secret intelligence briefing prepared by South African intelligence, in which it is stated with certainty that the 2007 raid on Pelindaba was ordered by the Chinese government. The Qatar-based news channel said the briefing related to counterespionage and was prepared in 2009. It said that the government of China had dispatched the sophisticated assailants’ team that raided the nuclear facility, and that the operation was part of an effort to steal sensitive technology that would give Beijing an advantage in building a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant as part of its Chinergy project. Chinergy is a massive collaborative effort by the Chinese government and the country’s private sector to reduce China’s reliance on coal and oil by building dozens of nuclear power plants across the country. There was no immediate comment by the Chinese and South African governments.