Analysis: Uganda blast: Signs point to Somali war blowback

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent

LONDON (BestGrowthStock) – Devastating bombings in Uganda are likely to have been the work of al Qaeda-allied Somali militants seeking to wreck a regional challenge to their growing hold on the failed Horn of Africa state.

The top suspect in the Sunday night blasts that killed 64 among World Cup soccer fans in Kampala is the Somali armed group al Shabaab. Analysts say that if that turns out to be the case, then this will have been its first foreign strike.

The change of tactics, the theory goes, would have been decided in order to press home in the most dramatic way the group’s opposition to an African Union peacekeeping mission it sees as Western-inspired.

A Western intelligence source said it was reasonable to see the force as the top suspect, in part because it had threatened Uganda for its participation in the African mission to end Somalia’s two decades of war, chaos and periodic famine.

“Shabaab is clearly no longer a parochial threat,” said Henry Wilkinson, of Janusian Security consultants in London.

“It’s potentially a very important development because the attack, if it was carried out by them, shows they can strike far away from their operational center of gravity.”

The possibility of al Shabaab’s involvement is especially worrying since the group contains several al Qaeda men who have contributed to the global network’s anti-Western campaign.

OPPORTUNISTIC

These include high profile al Qaeda suspects like Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, indicted for his alleged role in the 1998 Kenya and Tanzania U.S. embassy bombings that killed 240 people.

Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis said the attack’s targeting appeared consistent with al Shabaab’s methods and aims, one of which is resolute opposition to Ethiopia, Somalia’s large neighbor and perennial foe.

“The targeting of an Ethiopian restaurant full of foreigners also reinforces this idea – 3 targets in 1 really – Ethiopia, Uganda and the United States,” she said.

The bombings may complicate efforts to strengthen the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia known as AMISOM.

“You’re not going to see countries rushing to volunteer for AMISON after this,” said Gus Selassie, a London-based analyst with IHS Global Insight.

Al Shabaab had been warning Uganda and Burundi to desist from involvement in Somalia, and Uganda had sometimes appeared dismissive of the threat, he said.

Somalia expert Sally Healy, an Associate Fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said she expected the attack to increase anxiety about al Shabaab and the situation in Somalia both in the region and in the international community.

FOREIGN MILITANTS

There was no doubt that al Shabaab regarded AMISOM as an enemy force and had carried out suicide missions against it.

“It is perceived — accurately — as a largely Ugandan force and acting in the interests of Ethiopia, the United States and the west generally,” she said.

Experts will now be trying to determine to what extent the apparent change of tactics in striking abroad reflects the influence of foreign militants in al Shabaab’s ranks.

An International Crisis Group (ICG) report on al Shabaab issued in May said increasingly influential foreign jihadists in the group were now a key driver of the Somali conflict.

“Their belligerence, fanatical attachment to an uncompromising brand of politics and extremist theology is seriously undermining, if not thwarting, any potential chances for finding a political settlement.”

It said real power in the force was vested in a small group of foreign jihadis who were the driving force “behind al Shabaab’s ideological drift to the far extreme.”

The report named the following individuals as the most important foreign militants in al Shabaab.

— Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (Comoros Islands), described by ICG as “commander in chief of al Shabaab.”

— Sheikh Mohamed Abu Faid (Saudi-born), financier and manager of al Shabaab.

— Abu Suleiman Al-Banadiri (Somali of Yemeni descent), an adviser to al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

— Abu Musa Mombasa (Pakistan), recently arrived to replace Saleh Ali Nabhan, killed in U.S. military operation in Sept 2009, in al Shabaab security and training;

— Abu Mansur Al-Amriki (U.S.), finance of foreign fighters;

— Mohamoud Mujajir (Sudan), recruitment of suicide bombers;

— Abdifatah Aweys Abu Hamsa (Somali national trained in Afghanistan), commander of the Mujahidin of Al-Quds.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

Analysis: Uganda blast: Signs point to Somali war blowback