Army, police and counter terror units yesterday morning mounted a massive security sweep across central Kampala and beyond in the wake of a specific threat of planned terror attacks on key installations, bringing business to a standstill in some places.
Entebbe International Airport was also the focus of attention with elements from the Joint Anti-Terror Taskforce taking over security.
Police confirmed earlier warnings sent out by the US Embassy to American nationals not to go through Entebbe because real time intelligence had indicated that the airport was likely to be attacked yesterday evening.
Hundreds of officers in battle dress, some wielding high velocity sniper rifles and others light weapons patrolled the city suburbs, causing panic among city dwellers during the morning rush hour.
Ms Polly Namaye, the deputy police spokesperson, later said they had received intelligence reports, which they passed on to the US Embassy, that an unknown terrorist group would attack the airport between 9pm. to midnight.
“We couldn’t take anything for granted. We deployed both JATT and Counter Terrorism Police to carry out more searches,” Ms Namaye said yesterday.
No one was arrested in the operation.
The US Embassy issued an advisory to its citizens in Uganda that they should reconsider their travels through Entebbe yesterday citing the planned attack.
“The US Embassy has received information from the Uganda Police Force that according to intelligence sources, there is a specific threat to attack Entebbe International Airport by an unknown terrorist group today, July 3… Individuals planning to travel through the airport this evening may want to review their plans in light of this information,” the advisory said.
Last week, the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, said Entebbe airport was at high risk of being attacked by terrorists. Gen. Kayihura said a terror group had, in fact, already carried out trial runs on how they would carry out their attack. By far, yesterday’s was the largest joint operation and will probably go down as unprecedented in the annals of security deployment in recent history since the Work to Work protests in 2012.
Teams of officers erected barriers, closed off roads and carried out body searches in the city’s central business district.
At the road toll on the highway to the airport, all vehicle occupants were being asked to dismount and be subjected to a frisking.
In Kampala, officers prowled all over the busy and usually crowded St Balikuddembe Market and the surrounding bus terminals as people halted their busy schedules.
Many motorists were held up as some roads were closed by security officers.
Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Mr Patrick Onyango, said the intervention was to deter terror attacks during the World Cup finals.
“We also have several international conferences underway in [the Commonwealth Resort] Munyonyo and in hotels in Kampala. We have to ensure that all those visitors are secure,” Mr Onyango said.
Mr Lodovic Awita, Entebbe Airport Commandant, told Daily Monitor the new measures are for the safety of the travellers and the aviation industry.
Civil Aviation Authority spokesman, Mr Ignie Igunduura, last evening said the situation at the airport remained normal.
“All the flights we expected have arrived and no incident has been reported yet. However, we are yet to sit to analyse the impact of the alert to the business,” Mr Igunduura said.
By press time, it was not clear if there was any connection between the Kampala and Entebbe operations to similar heightened levels of security preparedness at London Heathrow and other airports in the UK where it was reported that credible intelligence pointed to a plan by terrorists to bring down an aircraft.
Yesterday’s operation comes seven days to the day when Uganda marks four years since the Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorist organisation launched a deadly attack on Uganda during the World Cup finals in 2010, killing 78 people in twin bombings at Kyadondo Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala, a Kampala suburb.
The same group warned recently that they will repeat similar attacks in this period.
Kenya has already been attacked by the same group.