Somalia's al Shabab rebels claimed responsibility yesterday for bombings in the Ugandan capital that killed 74 people and injured dozens as they watched the closing moments of the World Cup final at a restaurant and sports club. "We are behind the attack because we are at war with them," Ali Mohamoud Rage, the group's top spokesman told reporters in Mogadishu.
The attack in Kampala was the al Qa'eda-linked group's first successful cross-border attack and a sign they are serious about pushing foreign troops out of the country, analysts say. One bomb hit a popular nightspot, the Ethiopian Village restaurant, and the other targeted the Kampala rugby club. Analysts said the militants' success will draw the world's attention to Somalia. "They've reached beyond their borders for the first time," said Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
"They launched a dual suicide bombing during the most watched sporting event in the world, so it's got maximum propaganda value. Plus there's the very fact they got away with it when previous attempts have been interrupted, or failed, or sloppy." Twin coordinated attacks have been a trademark of al Qa'eda and groups linked to the militant network. This month al Shabab's leader called for a jihad against countries contributing to the African Union force in Somalia and protecting the western-backed government there.
Uganda, which has thousands of troops stationed in Somalia, said it would not pull out of the AU mission. "These people are cowards and Ugandans are not cowards and we are not going to run away from Mogadishu just because of this cowardly act," the deputy foreign minister, Okello Oryem, said. Somalia's transitional government has been under increasing military pressure from the rebel group in recent weeks.
Police had said they suspected al Shabaab 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. The explosion left 74 people dead and 71 injured. A police spokeswoman said 10 of the dead were either Ethiopian or Eritrean. One US citizen was among those killed and the US president, Barack Obama, condemned the attacks, offering Washington's help to Uganda in hunting down those responsible.
"We know al Shabab tried an attack in Kenya in 2009 so another external attack was always likely. The targeting of an Ethiopian restaurant full of foreigners also reinforces this idea - three targets in one really: Ethiopia, Uganda and the US," Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis, a London think tank devoted to politics and risk, said. The explosions happened in the closing moments of the final between Spain and Netherlands, leaving survivors shocked and unsure of where the blasts had come from.
"It all happened so fast, but we were watching soccer, having fun, making noise as usual, then all of sudden - I've never heard a bomb blast in my life, it was my first and I didn't know what was happening," said Lydia Nammata, who was at the Rugby club. "I don't know where it came from; we saw a blast and all the chairs whizzed by." Police said it was possible those behind the attacks were targeting foreigners.
email@example.com With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse