The secluded community in Mengo, Kampala, which was stormed by a joint force of army and police on Friday night had been a source of suspicion from neighbours for years, Sunday Monitor has established.
The police said yesterday that during the operation that started at about 9pm, two people in the compound were killed. Internal Affairs minister Jeje Odongo told a press conference at the Uganda Media Centre that one member of the security services was “fatally injured” in the raid. A number of residents we spoke to at the scene, however, claimed that more than 10 bodies were removed from the scene.
A number of residents in Kiguli Village, Kisenyi III Parish, who we talked to had queer information to share about the community, which lived in an enclosure made of iron sheets, living in temporary structures also largely made out of iron sheets and timber.
The community, which subscribes to Shia Islam, had a mosque, which was largely closed to the members of the neighbouring community, with the few outsiders, who sought to access the area having to first undergo thorough checking.
The community also had a mosque of their own and their preaching, projected on a megaphone, would often be overheard by members of the neighbouring community.
In their preaching, residents told Sunday Monitor, the community spiritual leaders were critical of President Museveni and the Kabaka of Buganda among other public figures. The neighbours say the Kabaka was criticised for being “worshiped”.
The community also had a tailor, the neighbours say, who would be called upon to clip the trousers of men, who visited them and their trousers were deemed too long for the community’s liking.
There was also a health centre and the children within the enclosed community were educated from within, the neighbours say, completing the image of a largely self-sufficient community that worked to minimise its contact with the outside world.
On designated days when the members of the community felt the need to express love to their partners, community members told Sunday Monitor, men would take their wives to neighbouring shops, buy them drinks and then carry them on their backs as they disappeared back into the enclosure. The community member who narrated this to us could not hold back laughter.
The members of the neighbouring community told this newspaper that they heard of the arrest of one Abdulrahman, perhaps at Entebbe Airport, the man who they had seen in the community and led the secluded community.
After Abdulrahman was arrested by the police, members of the neighbouring community say, another unidentified man took charge of the group. The new leader of the community, neighbours say, died recently and was buried before the attack on the community.
Questions will be asked why security officers took long to act even as residents claim they notified the police and other security personnel about the activities of the group and the threats to the community.
Neighbours say they first heard three gunshots at around 9pm after the army and police invaded the area. An eyewitness told Sunday Monitor that inside the compound, there were people armed with machetes that took on the security forces.
“They had a ‘commando’ with machetes, who cut many of the policemen and must have killed at least three. That man [commando] was gunned down after he slit a policeman’s face with a machete,” a man who claimed to have been within watching distance of the encounter told, Sunday Monitor.
Police continuously dispersed tear gas into the neighbouring settlements to prevent people from coming closer or even watching what happened.
At least three neighbours doubted the number of deaths that the police have released (two “terrorists” and one policeman).
“The number of Muslims killed could be anywhere between nine and 20,” one observer told Sunday Monitor.
Police explain attack
In a hastily arranged press conference yesterday morning, the police said two of the people in the compound were killed, 36 individuals were arrested from the compound, 94 children were “rescued”, just like 18 women.
Mr Abbas Byakagaba, the director of counter terrorism in the police, said the suspect was linked to the kidnap and murder of Susan Magara earlier this year.
“I hope you are all aware that Susan Magara was killed and the security forces have been following,” Mr Byakagaba said.
“There was a key suspect, who was being followed and that suspect went to Usafi Market and that time we were only following that suspect. But in the process we found children whom we believe were kidnapped. In the process there was an engagement that resulted in the death of the two and serious injury to one of our own.”
The suspect they were pursuing, a statement signed by police spokesperson Emilian Kayima said, is linked to the kidnap and murder and murder of Susan Magara earlier this month.
“Following credible intelligence, one of the key suspects whose name we shall not reveal now to protect the investigations in the murder of the late Susa Magara ran to Usafi mosque in Kisenyi having known that he was being tracked by the security agencies,” the statement reads in part.
The police further claimed that weapons - 60 rounds of 6.7mm ammunition, bows and arrows, and machetes – were recovered from the compound.
Asked why the security forces stormed a compound with vulnerable people, Mr Kayima said: “We did not anticipate that we would find children and women, but the operation unveiled a lot. We will take statements from the 36 suspects arrested and will ascertain what is there.”
Franklin Draku & Derrick Wandera contributed to this story