Uganda tightens security following al-Shabaab threat

Ugandan forces say they are keeping a close eye on the Somali community in Kampala, following threats by Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants to attack the Ugandan capital. A nationwide registration drive has begun in Uganda, aimed at keeping track of Somali refugees and new arrivals. 
The Ugandan government has reportedly deployed elite security forces, including the country’s paramilitary anti-terrorism unit, in and around the suburb of Kisenyi, home for many Somalis living in Kampala.

Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Okello Oryem says the government’s military intelligence service agents are also on the lookout for suspects and guarding potential targets throughout the capital.
“Amongst the communities, they might be able to live and mix in,” he said. “So, our intelligence services are working around the clock to determine whether the threats are real, practical in Uganda.”

The heightened security is in response to threats made on Friday by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked insurgent group that is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s UN-backed government in Mogadishu.

Troops from Uganda and Burundi make up the roughly 5000-member peacekeeping force in Somalia known as AMISOM. The troops are responsible for protecting the government and key sites in Mogadishu from insurgent attacks.

Al-Shabaab vowed to destroy the capitals of Uganda and Burundi in revenge for more than two dozen civilian deaths last week, allegedly caused by AMISOM troops indiscriminately targeting insurgents in Mogadishu.

Somali leaders and clan elders in Kampala say they are taking al-Shabab’s threat seriously and they have volunteered to help authorities identify people who may pose a security threat.

A senior Somali community leader, Abdullahi Hassan Roble, tells VOA that many people in his community of about 8000 are deeply concerned that an al-Shabab attack on Ugandan soil will bring years of unwanted attention and harassment.
“We do not want this problem to happen here in Uganda,” he explained. “We are very worried about it. So, we support the government and work with the government. [If] we see those people, we [will] report them.”

With the help of Ugandan security agencies, community leaders have begun registering all Somali visitors and refugees in Kampala and elsewhere. Identity cards are also being issued, and Roble warns those moving about the country without identity cards may be arrested and detained.

Al-Shabaab has already issued several threats against Uganda’s neighbour, Kenya.  The latest was issued earlier this month amid reports that the Kenyan government was recruiting soldiers to fight on the side of the Somali government.

Al-Shabaab, which began about six years ago as a home-grown radical Islamist movement, has been growing in power and influence in recent years. The group has claimed responsibility for carrying out numerous car and roadside bombings, as well as assassinations throughout Somalia.