Bombs went off across Kampala last night, killing at least 45 people – many of whom had been watching the World Cup final match.
Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura told Daily Monitor last night that he could not rule out the al-Shabaab militia in Somalia being behind the attacks. “We have set up a team to carry out investigations to establish the cause and the explosives that were used,” Gen. Kayihura said. “The people who carried out the attack were targeting World Cup fans.”
The first explosion ripped through the Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala at around 10pm, killing at least 13 people, many of them foreign nationals, and injuring several others. More than an hour later, an explosion ripped through a crowd of revellers at an open-air screening of the game at Kyadondo Rugby Club, setting off scenes of mayhem.
Less than a minute later, as the crowd scrambled for safety, another explosion went off, ripping through the sea of humanity. Police officers at the scene in Lugogo could not confirm the death toll at the scene. However, a Daily Monitor photojournalist counted 32 bodies at the scene.
What had earlier been a scene of joy and football celebration had been reduced to a theatre of death and destruction. White plastic chairs lay abandoned, save for about a dozen in the centre of the viewing area which remained occupied – by dead revellers, their lives ended abruptly, their bodies frozen in time. The angry sirens of police pick-up trucks and hospital ambulances filled the air as the dead and injured were ferried to the city mortuary and hospital respectively.
There were blood stains in the grass, amidst the abandoned bags and shoes and half-drunk bottles of beer. Klaus Sanga, who survived the blast at Lugogo, said: “There was blood all over. It was really scary. There was just running and screaming. It was really bad. I’d never expect something like this. I carried 15 people [to the ambulances].” Another survivor who declined to give his name added: “I was coming here because all my brothers are here. I came and stopped at Nakawa. I don’t know why; only God knows.”
Chaos amid casualties
There were chaotic scenes at Mulago, one of many hospitals where the injured and the dead were taken, with police officers asking bystanders to help take the dead and injured off the police pick-up trucks. At one point, the casualty unit, where the dead and injured were off-loaded from the trucks, got filled to capacity, prompting the police and the medics to temporarily put the bodies in a nearby store.
Many people, including survivors with blood-stained clothes kept turning up at the hospital late into the night, looking for information about their relatives and friends, forcing security operatives to close off the city mortuary.
Mr Fred Opolot, the Executive Director of the Government Media Centre confirmed three bomb blasts had gone off in Kabalagala and Kyaddondo. He said nothing in relation to those responsible for the blast could be confirmed immediately.
“We have had Al Shabab threats before, they could be initial suspects but at the moment, nobody can be ruled out,” he said. In January flights between Entebbe and Juba, the capital of South Sudan were temporarily halted after the United States government warned that “regional extremists” were planning an attack on aircraft on the route.
In October 2009, al Shabaab threatened to strike at Kampala and Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, in retaliation for rocket attacks by peacekeeping forces in which about 30 people died in Mogadishu in Somalia.
“We shall make their people cry,” Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, al Shabaab’s self-styled governor of Banadir region, which includes Mogadishu, said at the time. “We shall attack Bujumbura and Kampala ... We will move our fighting to those two cities and we shall destroy them.” The US government believes that al Shabaab’ has close links with al Qaeda.
Major Felix Kulayigye, the army spokesman, said at the time that the UPDF was aware of the extremists’ threat and was taking precautionary measures, adding that Uganda has been a constant target for extremists and the country is “always on alert” and there is no cause for alarm.
Burundi and Uganda both have about 2,500 peacekeepers in the Somali capital for the African Union’s Amisom peacekeeping force. The African Union last week agreed to send 2,000 more troops to the war-torn Horn of Africa.
In Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, Sheik Yusuf Sheik Issa, an al Shabaab commander, told the Associated Press early Monday that he was happy with the attacks in Uganda. Mr. Issa refused to confirm or deny that al Shabaab was responsible for the bombings. “Uganda is one of our enemies,” he said. “Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy.’’
Reported by Andrew Bagala, Emmanuel Gyezaho, Stephen Otage, Isaac Kasamani, Richard Wanambwa, Joseph Kiggundu and Wandera W’Ouma.