A Somali Islamist militant movement on Monday claimed responsibility for a trio of bombings that killed at least 74 people Sunday at two venues in the Ugandan capital where crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup final.
“And the best of men have promised and they have delivered,” said an Arabic statement issued by Al-Shabaab’s press office and obtained by CNN. “Blessings and exalted among men – (taking) full responsibility. … We wage war against the 6,000 collaborators; they have received their response.” The 6,000 is an apparent reference to African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. Uganda contributes troops to the peacekeeping effort. “We are behind the attack because we are at war with them,” Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahamoud Rage told reporters at a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia. “We had given warning to the Ugandans to refrain from their involvement in our country. We spoke to the leaders and we spoke to the people and they never listened to us.” Rage said young suicide bombers carried out the attacks but did not specify their nationalities. “May Allah accept these martyrs who carried out the blessed operation and exploded themselves in the middle of the infields,” he said. (CNN) The bombings late Sunday are the first time the group has actually attacked outside Somalia’s borders. “We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are,” said Rage. “No one will deter us from performing our Islamic duty.” (CBC)
However, Police Chief Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura told reporters arrests have been made in connection with the bombings. He would not say how many people have been arrested or provide details.
Earlier Monday, Sheikh Abu Al Zubeir, identified as “the Emir of Al-Shabaab in Somalia,” said an Arabic website posting, “My manage to the Ugandan and Burundian nations is that you will be the target for our retribution to the massacres perpetrated against the Somali men, women and children in Mogadishu by your forces.” (CNN) The statement was posted on an al-Qaeda affiliated website that previously had carried statements and videos from Al-Shabaab. The website set up a page Monday to “receive congratulations” on Al-Shabaab’s behalf for the “blessed operations” in Uganda.
Suspicion had centered on Somali Islamist group shortly after the explosions in Kampala, Uganda. Islamic militants battling Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional government had two days ago threatened attacks on Uganda and Burundi, which also contributes troops to the peacekeeping effort in Somalia.
President Yoweri Museveni declared a week of national mourning for victims of the bombings, beginning Tuesday, according to a government statement. All flags on public buildings will be lowered to half-staff during the mourning period, the statement said. Meanwhile, a journalist in Mogadishu reported that shelling was under way in the city as of Monday night.
Eighty-five people were injured in the Ugandan blasts, Kayihura told reporters. Of those, three are Americans, he said. They were transferred from the national hospital to a privately owned hospital in Kampala, he said. “This incident shows that it was terrorism,” he said. (CNN) Kayihura said he could not confirm that Al-Shabaab was responsible, but said the nature of the explosives used were consistent with the group. Police are using forensics to analyze the explosives, he said, and will deliver a report in a day or two. The 74 fatalities included 28 Ugandans, one Irish citizen, one Indian, one American and 11 people who are either Ethiopian or Eritrean, according to the Ugandan government.
“If you want to fight, why don’t you attack soldiers or military installations instead of fighting innocent people watching football?” said Museveni, who on Monday visited a rugby sports center where two of the blasts occurred Sunday. (CNN)
Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said it was too early to speculate about any military response to the attacks.
The blasts hit in the capital, Kampala, within 50 minutes of each other. The first one struck an Ethiopian restaurant in a neighbourhood dotted with bars and popular among expatriates; two others exploded at the rugby center. A senior government official confirmed there were three bombs. The second one at the rugby club was the most severe, said the official.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed the death of one American. An organization that works with children in Uganda identified him as Nate Henn. In a post on its website, the organization – Invisible Children – said Henn was in the country working with Ugandan students. CNN could not independently verify the information. “Nate was not a glory-seeker and never sought the spotlight. He asked not to be made a hero of,” the post said. “But the life he lived inspires reflection and imitation.” (CNN) Julie Cozzie, a neighbour in Raleigh, N.C., described Mr. Henn as a “kind, gentle, nice young man” who cared deeply for Uganda. (New York Times)
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. was prepared to provide any necessary assistance to the Ugandan government. Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said President Barack Obama is “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks.”(CNN) Obama called Museveni on Monday morning and offered to provide support and assistance, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “I’m told the FBI will assist in the investigation of the bombings.” The bombings, he said, show “criminality and terrorism has always been hovering over us.” (CNN)
Stone Atwine was watching the game at the rugby center when the blast occurred. “It happened toward the 90th minute of the game… this loud explosion,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening, we were running around, scampering for safety. I saw dead guys still seated in their chairs with blood.” Atwine said a second explosion struck the venue seconds later, knocking out power. “At that point, we ran off. My friends and I ran into the car and drove off.” (CNN) Relatives flocked the hospitals and mortuaries to looked for loved ones Monday.
“I was watching the game with my brother at the rugby center,” said Ian Luke, who was among a group gathered at a city hospital. “The blast left him unconscious. I don’t know how he is.” (CNN)
“We were enjoying ourselves when a very noisy blast took place,” said Andrew Oketa, one of the hospitalized survivors. “I fell down and became unconscious. When I regained, I realized that I was in a hospital bed with a deep wound on my head.” (CBC)
Florence Naiga, 32, a mother of three children, said her husband had gone to watch the final at the rugby club. “He did not come back. I learnt about the bomb blasts in the morning. When I went to police, they told me he was among the dead,” she said. (CBC)
“You can never stop attacks in the world,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “During the World Cup, the world should have been touched by the emotions of football. I’m very sad and I was very touched. Can you link this to the World Cup? I don’t know,” Blatter said. “It was when the World Cup was on TV, but it’s not for us to investigate a link. But being linked or not to football, we as human beings condemn the attacks. … I deplore what has happened and look forward to the good that football can bring to our world.” (CNN)
Some of the injured at the restaurant included six members of an American church mission working with a local congregation, according to the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor of Christ Community United Methodist Church in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. All the church members were accounted for and families had been contacted, Kind said. Their injuries ranged from broken bones and flesh wounds to temporary blindness and hearing problems, she said.
Kayihura said the bombings could have been avoided if the two venues had used security measures such as metal detectors and the placement of guards to frisk those entering.
Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a longtime enemy of Al-Shabaab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbour of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia between December 2006 and January 2009 to back Somalia’s fragile government against the Islamist insurgency. In addition to Uganda’s troops in Mogadishu, Uganda also hosts Somali soldiers trained in U.S. and European-backed programs. Uganda, a close ally of the United States, was the first country to commit peacekeeping troops for the African Union’s mission to protect Somalia’s transitional government from the Islamist insurgency.
There are also thousands of Somali refugees living in Uganda. Unlike Kenya, the nation provides Somalis relatively easy access to visas, which they can receive on arrival. “This terrorist attack would really put pressure on the Somali refugees living in Uganda, their businesses and movement as well,” said Ali Abdullahi Egal, chairman of the Fanole Human Rights and Development Organization. “It will also hinder the flow of refugees and asylum seekers who flee from their counry and arrive in Kampala.” (New York Times)
Officials said the Sunday attacks will not affect the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19-27. Many African leaders are expected to attend.