Explosions ripped through two restaurants in the Ugandan capital, killing at least 64 people including a US citizen, as crowds watched the World Cup final, police said, terming the blasts terrorist attacks.
The Inspector General of Ugandan police Kale Kayihura linked the explosions to recent threats by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab militia against countries that have sent troops to the African Union (AU) peace force there, French news agency AFP reports. Shabaab leader Mohamed Abdi Godane on July 5 accused the AU peacekeepers — comprising Ugandan and Burundian troops — of killing civilians in Mogadishu and called on Somalis to join the war against “the enemy of Allah”.
“You know there have been declarations from Shabaab and Al-Qaida. Terrorism is a modern-day threat. You know the region we are in and our commitment in Somalia,” Kayihura said. “Obviously this is terrorisn. That one is clear,” he added. “At this stage we can’t rule out anything.” The explosions hit an Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala, a crowded suburb in the south of Kampala littered with several pubs popular with football fans, and a rugby sports club in the eastern region of the capital city.
“Here there are 13 dead,” said the police chief in reference to the Ethiopian restaurant, adding that “I can talk of deaths in the tens,” when asked about the toll at the sports club. “These bombs were definitely targeting World Cup crowds,” Kayihura said.
One American national was among those killed in the attacks, a US embassy spokeswoman told AFP. “At this time we can confirm that one American has been killed,” said Joann Lockard. “I have no further information about American citizens.” An AFP correspondent saw three wounded US citizens at Kampala’s main Mulago hospital where dozens other injured people had been taken for treatment.
“We just wanted to watch the World Cup, unfortunately we went to the Ethiopian village,” said 18-year-old Chris Sledge who suffered serious injuries to his legs and a bruised eye. “I feel OK. Am gonna need surgery.”
US President Barack Obama called the deadly explosions “deplorable and cowardly”, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement. “The United States is ready to provide any assistance requested by the Ugandan government,” he added. A senior administration official said the United States was in contact with its embassy in Kampala and was in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding requests for assistance from Uganda’s government.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the explosions or what anybody’s motivation could have been, but Kampala city police spokesman Idi Ssenkunzi said they suspected that the perpetrators detonated bombs.
Uganda became the first country to send troops to Somalia in early 2007 to prop up the war-torn country’s transitional government, which were later joined by Burundian forces. The hardline militia have repeatedly attacked the AU peackeepers, killing scores and confining the fragile government’s control of Mogadishu to just a few blocks. Last week, a regional bloc pledged to send additional 2000 soldiers to Somalia to boost the AU peacekeepers’ strength to the required 8100 troops, sparking belligerent reaction from the radical Islamist groups.
On Saturday, the leaders of Somalia’s two Islamist movements met for talks aimed at joining forces against the Western-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed they are fighting to overthrow,
In Kampala, Uganda’s police chief urged residents to avoid huge gatherings. “As we grapple to find out what could have caused this, I would appeal to members of the public to avoid big gatherings,” Kayihura said. Several security officers went to the scenes of the blasts, blocked roads and cordoned off the buldings, an AFP correspondent reported.