Inside the Komamboga terror attack

The scene where the blast occurred on Saturday night in Komamboga was sealed off. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • Investigators indicate that three male suspects abandoned an improvised explosive device under a table, which they detonated.

The explosion at a Kampala hangout on Saturday night in which one person died and three were injured was “an act of domestic terrorism”, police ruled yesterday.

The improvised explosive device or IED was detonated at Uncle Sam’s and Ronnie’s Pork joints at about 9pm, killing waitress Emily Nyinaneza, 20, and injuring scores.

Annet Kiconco and Peter Ssenyonga --- reported by investigators to be in critical condition at Mulago National Referral Hospital – and Rose Nakitto were caught by flying shrapnel and nails.

The attack came two weeks after the United Kingdom and France issued a travel advisory principally for their citizens about a “very likely” terror attack in Uganda, an alert Uganda Police Force downplayed.

Since yesterday evening, joint security teams have been combing a radius of two kilometres from the scene of crime to find the three suspects, but none had been arrested, police said.

Investigators indicate that three male suspects abandoned an improvised explosive device under a table where they briefly sat, before it exploded at a hangout owned by Samuel Lule.

It remains unclear what other work, if any, Mr Lule does or whether he has relatives in high government or security circles to provide a cover for his bar to operate past curfew time and despite a presidential ban.

Nature of explosives
Mr Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, told a press conference at police headquarters in Naguru, that the IED had bicycle hub bearings, nails, metallic pieces and explosives, suggesting it was home-made.
“Moments after, the explosion occurred, covering a radius of five square metres. This indicates that the suspects ultimately detonated the improvised explosive device after leaving the scene,” Mr Enanga said.

Witnesses said the suspects appeared to be jovial and interacted with, and bought drinks for, other merrymakers before they left the IED near a wall and marched away to set off the blast.

This is the first officially-confirmed terror attack in Uganda after the 2010 twin-bombing at Kyadondo Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village in which more than 70 people died.  The al-Shabaab, which Ugandan military dislodged from Mogadishu, then claimed responsibility.

In Kampala, Police Counter-Terrorism (CT) experts determined that the suspects’ execution of the attack in Komamboga was rushed, suggesting they were cowardly and amateurish.

Mr Enanga said no terror group has claimed responsibility and they have not yet got evidence linking the attack to actors.

However, the Counter-Terrorism and National Security Intelligence (CTNSIS), an online terrorist attack tracker, tweeted that “ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province) DR-Congo cell in Uganda has conducted a second terror attack in Kawempe area of the capital Kampala. Two people killed and seven injured. ISCAP has a larger cell in Kasese near the border with DR Congo.”

The figures in the tweet, attributed to ISCAP, of which the Uganda-born, but DRC-based Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is an affiliate, vary from the fatality and casualty figures presented by police.

The ADF is a Uganda-born rebel group that in the 1990s and 2000s terrorised mainly western Uganda border areas in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Kabarole before starting a campaign of indiscriminate killings in Kampala by tossing grenades in mainly crowded bars.

Their signature brutality manifested on June 8, 1998 when the marauding rebels struck at Kichwamba Technical Institute in Kabarole District, burning dead 80 students and abducting about 100. In a major offensive, the UPDF dislodged the bandits from their lairs in the mountainous frontier and they fled to eastern DR Congo from where, under Jamil Mukulu, they continued to unleash mayhem, this time on rural Congolese citizens.

Rebel groups
Sporadic onslaughts by Congolese forces and a brief lightning air raid by UPDF in December 2017 scattered and subdued the rebels, only for them, according to security and intelligence officials, to regroup under Mukulu, born David Steven.

Tanzanian forces arrested Mukulu in April 2015 and handed him to Uganda where he is being prosecuted for a plethora of capital offences, among them terrorism and murders.

However, Musa Seka Baluku succeeded him, pledging allegiance to the terrorist Islamic State (IS) outfit in 2016, although the transnational terrorist group confirmed its operations in the Uganda border area only in April 2019.
From then on, the United States, according to information on the Department of State website, and other global security and spy agencies, alternately refer to ADF as the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) and or Medina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen.

In Kampala, police had by yesterday not linked the explosion at the premises of Uncle Sam’s and Ronnie’s Pork joints in Komamboga, a northern suburb of the capital, to any group.

The Force’s spokesperson, Mr Enanga said positioning the IED close to a wall reduced the devastation.
Mr Enanga said they will use descriptions offered by witnesses to identify and arrest the masterminds.

The premises of the attack teems with about a dozen small pork joints and none has a security protocol such as physical checks or Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras or controlled access.

The only available CCTV cameras that could have caught a footage of fleeing attackers is about a kilometre away, yet there are many intersecting roads they could have used as escape routes.

Police CCTV camera analysts spent the better part of yesterday visiting homes and businesses along the road that have CCTV cameras in an attempt to retrieve footages to aid the investigations that has drawn experts from across the state security and intelligence spectrum.

The attack happened a fortnight after London and Paris warned of a “very likely” terror attack in Uganda, and security officials in Kampala were in corner of bother after they disregarded the alert.

Additionally, the blast happened at a bar, which under a subsisting presidential directive should have been closed to stem the spread of Covid-19, raising questions why the hangouts reportedly patronised by some security operatives were open illegally and past the 7pm curfew in place.

Both President Museveni and the Ministry of Health have issued a 7pm to 6am curfew and closures of bars and discotheques, with a penalty of trading licence revocation for proprietors in breach of the guidelines.

After the Saturday night “domestic terror” incident, police commanders of the neighbouring divisions --- Kampala Metropolitan Police North and Kampala Metropolitan Police East --- denied that the area was in under jurisdiction.

But Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander Stephen Tanui ruled that it was under Kawempe Division in Kampala Metropolitan Police North and subsequently ordered the arrest of the Operations Commander as well as Officer in-charge of Kanyanya Police Station. Their crime: disobeying lawful orders and allowing the entertainment places to operate in violation of curfew guidelines.

Mr Noah Mukasa Sserumaga, the chairperson for Komamboga Central Village, told Mr Tanui that whenever local police officers attempt to close businesses that violate curfew, they are called by senior commanders to abort the operation.

“Police officers hear are told that there are orders from above to stop enforcing the standards,” he said.
Detectives yesterday struggled to get witnesses, fearful that they could be arrested for merrymaking at a bar in breach of a presidential directive.