The death toll following Sunday night’s bomb explosions that ripped through a city restaurant and sports club climbed to 74 yesterday, as reports trickled in that the Somali Islamist militia group, al Shabaab had claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The development came as President Museveni declared a week of national mourning for victims of the bomb blasts starting today. A statement from Presidency Minister Beatrice Wabudeya said the President had taken the decision “due to the barbaric and cowardly act”.
Reuters news agency quoted Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, al Shabaab’s spokesman, telling reporters in Mogadishu: “Al Shabaab was behind the two bomb blast in Uganda.”
A report by the Chinese news agency Xinhua said a senior member of the Somali terrorist group had said the blasts were reprisal attacks against Uganda for sending peacekeepers to Mogadishu under the auspices of the African Union. “We have reached our object,” said the senior al Shabaab militant, who reportedly declined to be named. “We have killed many Christians in the enemy capital (Kampala).”
Three explosive devices were detonated on Sunday at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala and at the Kyadondo Rugby Club where hundreds of revellers were watching the World Cup final match between Spain and the Netherlands.
Security agencies yesterday made some arrests in connection with the attacks. The police declined to give details, saying the investigations were ongoing. However, a source said one of the suspects was arrested at Oasis Mall in the heart of Kampala.
Primary Health Care Minister James Kakooza told reporters at Mulago Hospital, where friends and relatives of victims of the blasts have pitched camp since Sunday, that at least 70 people had been confirmed dead. But Mr Fred Opolot, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, told a media briefing late last evening that a preliminary report put the death toll at 74.
Twenty-eight were Ugandans, 11 Ethiopians/Eritreans, one Irish lady and an Asian. Thirty-three people are still unidentified. “We expect the number to rise because some people were taken to private clinics,” said the minister.
Recounting events in the aftermath of the blast, Mr Kakooza reported that at least 58 people had been admitted at Mulago Hospital “with serious injuries”. “Last night [Sunday] five died on arrival,” he said, “three have since died in intensive care unit.”
The minister said three American nationals who had been admitted at the hospital were transferred yesterday to the International Hospital Kampala “for evacuation to Nairobi.” He also reported that three people were “in critical condition” on life support, while 45 were undergoing surgery after sustaining different injuries including head, chest, abdominal and soft-tissue injury.
“We have ordered the National Medical stores to immediately supply Mulago with x-ray films, canulars and any other medical equipment needed right away,” he said. “Ugandans should be calm because we shall do whatever is possible to save the lives of those still under our care.”
President Museveni visited bed-ridden victims at Mulago and found moment to inspect the bomb blast scenes. All flags on public buildings will fly at half mast today at the start of the weeklong period of national mourning.
Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba told journalists that of the dead, 15 were killed at the Ethiopian Village and 49 at Lugogo Rugby Club, adding that 10 of the dead were either Ethiopian or Eritrean. She was speaking before the death toll rose to 74.
Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Uganda Terfa Mengesha told Daily Monitor by telephone that preliminary reports had indicated that six Ethiopian nationals had been confirmed dead. “I think the other four were Eritrean,” he said.
Ms Nabakooba said investigations had kicked off in earnest, headed by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force to establish who had masterminded the deadly attacks. Her comments came before reports emerged that the al Shabaab had claimed responsibility.
The reports moved to vindicate government suspicions as told by Mr Fred Opolot, the Media Centre boss, who said the government “suspected this is an act of suicide bombers” and comments by army spokesman Felix Kulayigye who said: “At one of the scenes, investigators identified a severed head of a Somali national, which we suspect could have been a suicide bomber.”
In the recent past, Somali Islamists have threatened to attack Uganda for sending peacekeeping troops to their country to protect the transitional government of President Sheikh Ahmed Sharif.