Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Somalia, al-Shabab, has taken responsibility for two separate bombings late Sunday in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The death toll has risen to more than 70 and dozens more remain seriously wounded.
Speaking to reporters from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, al-Shabab’s spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage, also known as Ali Dheere, said the twin blasts were in retaliation for Uganda’s failure to withdraw its troops from Somalia.
Ugandan soldiers make up more than half the 6,100-member African Union peacekeeping force in the Horn of African country. The force, which is mandated to protect the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government from insurgent attacks, has been fighting near daily battles with al-Shabab in Mogadishu since the first Ugandan contingent arrived in 2007.
Ali Dheere says Uganda and the other African country contributing troops to the peacekeeping mission, Burundi, ignored previous warnings to leave Somalia. He says Sunday’s attacks were carried out to prove that al-Shabab will target civilians in Kampala and Bujumbura, if the peacekeepers are not withdrawn immediately.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni condemned the attacks and vowed to hunt down the perpetrators. The country is also expected to provide the bulk of the reinforcement troops that have been pledged by East Africa’s regional bloc known as IGAD to bring the peacekeeping force to its full strength of 8,000. Ugandan officials say the troops will stay in Somalia as long as they are needed to stabilize the country.
At least 74 people are believed to have been killed in the bombings that targeted fans watching the World Cup final. The first blast tore through an Ethiopian restaurant in southern Kampala. The second blast took place about 50 minutes later at the Kyadondo Rugby Club, which was showing the World Cup match on a giant TV screen.
The Ugandan government is said to be investigating reports that two suicide bombers may have been involved in carrying out the attacks.
Most of the casualties were Ugandans. But one American aid worker was killed and six Methodist missionaries from the U.S. state of Pennsylvania were wounded.
Last week, al-Shabab’s top leader, Ahmed Ali Godane, accused African Union troops of continuing to indiscriminately shell neighborhoods and killing civilians in Mogadishu. He said his group would seek revenge.
Somalis also accuse al-Shabab fighters of using residents as human shields, launching mortars at peacekeepers from densely populated areas.
Al-Shabab, is designated a terrorist group by the United States and other Western countries, has already carried out several suicide attacks against peacekeepers in Somalia.
Al-Shabab also killed more than 20 people in October 2008 in coordinated multiple suicide bombings in Somaliland and Puntland. But until Sunday, the group had not been able to attack any city outside Somali territories.
Neighboring Kenya has announced it has heightened security along its border with Somalia.