Police target parents to stop ADF recruits

Police officers secure the explosion site near the building of Parliament in Kampala, Uganda, on November 16, 2021. Police spokesperson Fred Enanga has cautioned parents against allowing their children to engage in terror acts. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • Several children were reportedly being radicalised in Kasese, Ntoronko, Kayunga, Wakiso, and Luweero districts.

Police yesterday announced that they will go after parents or guardians of children recruited by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) because they believe the failure to report the missing youngsters shows complicity.

The ADF is a Ugandan-born rebel group, with lairs in eastern DR Congo, which morphed into the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) following its 2019 conversion to an affiliate of the Islamic State’s global terror network.

The crackdown on parents of ADF recruits is among the widening security snare, including increased surveillance at the Uganda-DRC border, to prevent recruits from crossing into Congo and suspected terrorists from entering Uganda.

According to spokesman Fred Enanga, police and sister security agencies in the past week rescued about 90 children being held in secret locations and radicalised in Kasese, Ntoronko, Kayunga, Wakiso, and Luweero districts.

Twenty-two of these were rescued from Kasengejje Village in Wakiso and the head of the shelter, named by detectives as a one Sheikh Rwangabo, fled, and is still on the run.

According to police, the children claimed that they were gathered from Nansana, a Kampala suburb, Ntinda-Kampala, Kagoma, Kawempe, and Bugerere in Kayunga.

In last week’s operation, police arrested Mr Ismael Kaija and Mr Mohammed Ssewakiryanga, who they identified as Sheikh Rwangabo’s aides. 

The duo is being interrogated on whereabouts of other children they have taken since October last year.

Officials said six of the children rescued last week were from Karugutu, while 50 were from Bombo.

Notable among them is a 14-year-old, whose name we are withholding for legal reasons, whom police said intimated to them that he was kidnapped from Kiboga and smuggled into DRC from where he was skilled to plant and detonate bombs and handle military weapons.

He, together with other child recruits, escaped from ADF hide-outs and entered Uganda through Kasese, security sources said. The escapees are undergoing rehabilitation at a centre in Masaka City.

Mr Enanga told a press conference at police headquarters in Naguru, a Kampala suburb, yesterday that they will summon parents and guardians to explain the circumstances under which children in their care ended up in ADF camps, and why they did not report to authorities their disappearance. 

“We need to take a very tough stand because we may find that some of the parents are contributory to such acts of recruitment and radicalisation of children. In one way or another, they could be facilitating these acts of terror,” he added.

Many of the rescued minors are currently sheltered in protected places and undergoing rehabilitation and psychosocial counselling, pending their reintegration with families.

Police warned parents against surrendering their children to strangers for upbringing because they could end up recruited by subversive and “anti-democracy” elements intending to destabilise Uganda.

A lingering threat of terrorist attacks, following last week’s bomb explosions in Kampala that killed seven people, three of them suicide bombers, according to police, has prompted intelligence and security forces to monitor home and worship places that may be used to assemble to radicalise children into terrorism.

Some of the worship places harbouring ADF-linked recruits have been identified in Bombo, Luweero, Kasengejje in Wakiso, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo districts, according to Mr Enanga.

“So, by effectively securing the DRC-Uganda border, we shall have disrupted the supply line of recruits to the ADF. And some of them have been disguising as refugees,” he said.

President Museveni and police in separate addresses blamed last week’s improvised explosive devices attacks in Kampala, and the two blasts in October to the ADF, and vowed to attack the designated terrorist group at source.

One of the attacks on a pork eatery in Kampala’s Komamboga suburb happened during the Covid-induced curfew hours and, as a result, police yesterday vowed to confiscate cash and music systems at entertainment places defying partial or total ban on their operations.

The State Minister for International Affairs, Mr Henry Oryem Okello, told Daily Monitor on Sunday that the planned counter offensive is pending consent by Kinshasa and the international community.

Police yesterday dismissed rising concerns by human rights activists and Opposition politicians that the state appears to be profiling and targeting Muslims.

“Nobody has been arrested because of their political or religious beliefs and those arrested are people [involved] in acts of violence and atrocities committed against Ugandans,” Mr Enanga said.

State security agencies have taken into custody a total of 106 suspects, almost all Muslims, since the ADF-linked terror attack on October 23 blast in Komamboga.

The Force identified other dead victims in the Kampala twin blasts as UPDF soldier George Katana, police constable Amos Kungu, Sande Christopher, and a one Ismael Basibe, whose body is still at City Mortuary in Mulago, with no one showing up to claim it.