Uganda bombs kill 74

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (BestGrowthStock) – Somali Islamists said on Monday they had carried out two bomb attacks in Uganda that killed 74 soccer fans watching the World Cup final on television, Al Jazeera television reported.

The explosions in the closing moments of Sunday’s match ripped through two crowded venues in the capital Kampala — an Ethiopian-themed restaurant and a rugby club.

Al Shabaab militants in Somalia have threatened to attack Uganda for sending peacekeeping troops to the anarchic country to prop up the Western-backed government.

Police said they suspected al Shabaab, a group which claims links with al Qaeda and which is fighting the fragile government in Somalia, was behind the attacks.

“At one of the scenes, investigators identified a severed head of a Somali national, which we suspect could have been a suicide bomber,” said army spokesman Felix Kulayigye.

“We suspect it’s al Shabaab because they’ve been promising this for long,” he said on Monday.

An al Shabaab commander in Mogadishu praised the attacks but admitted he did not know whether his group was behind them.

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said Sheikh Yusuf Isse, an al Shabaab commander in the Somali capital.

“We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard,” he said.

Burundi, which also contributes troops to the Somalia peacekeeping mission, has stepped up security, an army spokesman said in the capital, Bujumbura.

One American was among those killed and President Barack Obama, condemning what he called deplorable and cowardly attacks, said Washington was ready to help Uganda in hunting down those responsible. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the attacks on “innocent spectators.”

One bombing targeted the Ethiopian Village restaurant, a popular night-spot which was heaving with soccer fans and is frequented by foreign visitors. The second attack struck the Lugogo Rugby Club also showing the match.

Twin coordinated attacks have been a hallmark of al Qaeda and groups linked to Osama bin Laden’s militant network.

“Right now the official figure is 74 dead,” government spokesman Fred Opolot said. “There is a white woman, one person of Indian descent, 10 Eritreans or Ethiopians.”

The U.S. State Department confirmed that one American citizen was killed and five injured. The U.S. charity Invisible Children said one of its members, Nate Henn from Wilmington, Delaware, had been killed in the rugby club blast.

‘COWARDLY ACT’

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni visited the rugby club.

“This shows you the criminality and terrorism that I have been talking about,” he said. “If you want to fight, go and look for soldiers, don’t bomb people watching football.”

“This is a cowardly act by al Shabaab terrorists,” Bereket Simon, the Ethiopian government’s head of information, told Reuters in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement from Mogadishu. That sparked the Islamist insurgency which still rages.

The blasts come in the closing moments of the final between Spain and the Netherlands and left shocked survivors reeling among corpses and scattered chairs.

“We were watching soccer here and then when there were three minutes to the end of the match an explosion came … and it was so loud,” witness Juma Seiko said at the rugby club.

Heavily armed police cordoned off both blast sites and searched the areas with sniffer dogs while dazed survivors helped pull the wounded from the wreckage.

Uganda, east Africa’s third largest economy, is attracting billions of dollars of foreign investment, especially in its oil sector and government debt markets.

But investors in Uganda and neighboring Kenya, which shares a largely porous border with Somalia, often cite the threat from Islamic militants as a serious concern.

“I certainly think the blasts will make risk appraisals tighter on Uganda. If it does transpire to be al Shabaab that will certainly raise the concerns of Western investors and also Chinese investors in Uganda,” said Alex Vines, Head of Africa Programmes at London’s Chatham House think-tank.

The Ugandan shilling fell slightly against the dollar on Monday after the blasts.

Ugandan tourism authorities said visitors need not worry about “a one-off incident that comes once in a blue moon.”

In Kampala, Somali residents voiced fears of a backlash.

“We are in fear and locked in our homes today for fear of Ugandans’ possible retaliation,” Bisharo Abdi, a Somali refugee, told Reuters. “Some Ugandans are saying ‘kill Somalis’.”

In Washington, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Obama was “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks.”

“The United States is ready to provide any assistance requested by the Ugandan government,” said Hammer.

On Saturday, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed told Reuters the growing number of foreign jihadists joining the Islamic insurgents posed a threat to regional security.

(Additional reporting by Frank Nyakairu, Sahra Abdi and Abdi Guled in Nairobi; Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Giles Elgood)

Uganda bombs kill 74