Six suspects held in hunt for Uganda bombers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ugandan police have found an unexploded suicide vest and arrested six of the cell of at least 20 Somalis and Ugandans who are suspected of planning the twin bombings that killed 76 football fans on Sunday, an intelligence source said yesterday.

Somali al-Shabaab Islamists linked to al-Qa'ida said on Monday they had carried out the attacks on a crowded restaurant and a rugby club in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, while fans watched the World Cup final on television. However, an official from the al-Shabaab group said yesterday that there had been no suicide bombers involved in the attack.

A Ugandan military intelligence source said that intelligence officials had received a tip-off last month that an attack was being planned. "On 17 June, an informer from the Kisenyi suburb of Kampala told intelligence that some Somalis were planning an attack during the World Cup," the source said.

The official said more than 20 people, Somalis and Ugandans, were involved in planning the attacks. "So far we have arrested six people from that racket," the official added.

Al-Shabaab has threatened more attacks unless Uganda and Burundi withdraw their peacekeepers from the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM), where the militants are fighting the government and control large parts of the country.

Al-Shabaab has banned the watching football matches in areas under its control, and the bombing of people watching Sunday's final World Cup match while drinking alcohol was a double ideological strike for the rebel group: killing unbelievers while taking revenge for what is seen as an invasion by Ugandan troops.

Co-ordinated attacks are a hallmark of al-Qa'ida and groups linked to Osama bin Laden's militant network. Police said the suicide vest found late on Monday at a third site was designed so it could also be planted, rather than worn.

If confirmed to be the work of al-Shabaab, Sunday night's attack would be the first time the militants have taken their push for power internationally. The African Union said Uganda would still host a summit of African leaders this month and said it would not be deterred from its peacekeeping mission.

"The government of Uganda added there will be no danger to visiting heads of state and dignitaries. The AU summit will not be disturbed by this incident," an AU spokesman, Noureddine Mezni, said.

The regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), also said it would not be cowed and would continue to support the Western-backed government in Somalia. "We shall continue with our plans to increase peacekeepers in Somalia to over 8,000 and we hope to have the extra troops in the country by the second week of August," IGAD's executive secretary, Mahboud Maalim, told journalists in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Last week, IGAD's members – Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti — said they wanted 20,000 troops from the AU and United Nations to be deployed eventually in Somalia to aid peacekeeping.

However, Uganda's opposition, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, urged President Yoweri Museveni to pull his peacekeepers out and said it planned a withdrawal if it won elections in 2011.

"There is no peace to keep in Somalia and Uganda has no strategic interest there," said the party's spokesman, Wafula Oguttu. "We're just sacrificing our children for nothing."

There has been mixed reaction in Somalia to Sunday's attacks, with many apologetic for the loss of lives. Others, however, have rejoiced.

"Uganda and Burundi troops are carrying out genocide with every shell they launch in Mogadishu [the capital]," said Yusuf Abdiqadir Maalim, a clan elder in Kismayu, Somalia's third-largest city. "It is good for them to see and taste the pain of a massacre."