For young, middle-class football fans in the Ugandan capital there was no better place to watch the World Cup final. A giant screen had been erected beside the clubhouse of the Kyadondo rugby club. Hundreds of white plastic chairs were neatly arranged on the grass in front. The beer flowed freely – for a $2 entrance fee you got two free bottles of Guinness.
Jovan Ssebaggala, 21, and his elder brother Joel, a government land valuer, arrived early to secure front seats. Fireworks marked the start of the game; then the vuvuzelas took over.
At half-time, a few miles across town, a deadly explosion carried out by Somali Islamist militants ripped through an Ethiopian restaurant. But the news never reached the fans at the rugby club. Then, with three minutes of normal time remaining in the game, and as the two brothers urged Spain on against Holland, there was a loud blast. Jovan thought “fireworks” but instinctively jumped out of his seat towards the screen. “I looked up to the sky but there were no lights. Then I turned around and saw people lying on the ground,” he said.
Perhaps five seconds later there was another blast. Jovan desperately looked for Joel, but there were so many bodies lying around. A woman whose head had been blown off remained in her chair. A dead man with a blood-soaked football shirt still clutched his beer. Jovan prayed that his brother had escaped unhurt, like he had, and made his way home. When he next saw Joel it was on the front page of the New Vision newspaper in the morning. Joel was lying on his back, with his hand on his stomach. He was dead.
At least 74 people were killed in the twin bombings in Kampala on Sunday night, most of them at the rugby club. The Somali Islamist movement al-Shabaab today took responsibility for the bombings. The militants, who claim links with al-Qaida and are trying to overthrow Somalia’s government, have repeatedly threatened to attack Uganda as punishment for it leading the African Union peacekeeping mission (Amisom) in Mogadishu. Uganda is also hosting a training camp for Somali government soldiers.
“We thank the mujahideens that carried out the attack,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, al-Shabaab’s spokesman, told reporters in the Somali capital. “We are sending a message to Uganda and Burundi, if they do not take out their Amisom troops from Somalia, blasts will continue and it will happen in Bujumbura [Burundi’s capital] too.”
Al-Shabaab also loathes Ethiopia, which sent troops into Somalia in 2006 to oust a broad-based Islamist coalition that has taken control of much of the country. Sunday’s attack was the worst in east Africa since the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which brought al-Qaida into public consciousness for the first time. It is also the first time al-Shabaab, which has little support among ordinary Somalis but is a powerful fighting force, has struck beyond the country’s border, confirming its emergence as an international terror organisation.
The bombings drew worldwide condemnation. South Africa, which hosted the World Cup, described it as a “barbaric act of terrorism”. Barack Obama, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the attackers were cowardly. The US, which has supplied Somalia’s embattled government with weapons to fight al-Shabaab and other Islamist rebels, said it would assist Uganda to catch the perpetrators. One American was killed in the attack, with Ethiopian, Congolese and Indians nationals also among the dead or injured.
FBI agents sifted through the debris at the rugby club today. Reports indicated that the severed head of what appeared to be a Somali suicide bomber had been found. About 20 minutes’ drive away, in the upmarket Kabalagala suburb, a policeman clutching an AK-47 sat on top of a lion statue at the gates to the Ethiopian Village restaurant. Passersby peered over the fence at the destroyed bar area, littered with glass, upturned furniture, a sandal and a black shoe. At least 15 people were killed here.
Markos Getnet, a 43-year-old Ethiopian businessman who visits the bar most weekends, said he was shocked. “You don’t expect this sort of thing in Uganda,” he said. But local intelligence officials would have been less surprised. A few months ago the government distributed posters in Kampala, which has a large Somali community, warning people to be aware that a terrorist attack might take place. Many Ugandans are now questioning whether the peacekeeping mission in Somalia is worth it, especially as Uganda has no strategic interest in the country.
“Our government went to an outside war and we are targeted because of that,” said Osama Ssemakula, whose brother-in-law was killed in the rugby club attack, as he waited to identify the body at the Mulago hospital. “We the innocent people are dying while those in government who are sending our troops to Somalia are safe.” But others at the hospital who crowded around the tree where lists of the dead and injured had been tacked were simply trying to come to terms with the loss.
Augustine Luwembo said his son Nicholas, 26, had decided to watch the game at the rugby club with friends. “At midnight I heard there was a bomb blast. I tried to phone Nicholas, but he did not answer,” Luwembo said. At 2am his phone rang. The caller was not Nicholas, but a policeman who had found his mobile. “He said to me: ‘The owner of this phone is dead.’ “
Source : Uganda bomb blasts kill at least 74? – The Guardian