Thirteen arrested over links to ADF terrorists

UPDF in Rwenzori Sub-region in a past deployment. The area has previously come under attack by the ADF rebels. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Tracking. “The suspects were surveilled and tracked down to one of the churches (Church of Christ for Alerted Saints). There was some bit of resistance [by the suspects during arrest], but our task teams managed to arrest eight of them,” Police spokesperson Fred Enanga.

A joint Uganda security team has arrested 13 suspects it alleges are members or linked to the Allied Democratic Force (ADF), a designated terrorist group which the Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP) confirmed as an affiliate in 2019.

Among those taken into custody are a pastor and an engineer.

The men were apprehended in various sting operations in Paidha Town in Zombo District and in Kasese Municipality, which both straddle the border with the DR Congo (DRC), as well as in Njeru near the eastern Jinja City.

Many had been under surveillance, security officials told journalists at a press conference at Uganda Police Forces headquarters in Naguru, a Kampala suburb, and undercover operatives closed in on them after the United Kingdom last week said a terror attack on Uganda was “very likely”.

“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Uganda. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. UK Counter-Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack,” the UK government statement noted in the advisory principally for its citizens.

In Kampala, security forces officially had a muted response, noting that Uganda would not raise the threat level despite the alert.

According to sources familiar with the processes, Ugandan security and intelligence officials, however, quietly conferred with their British counterparts to ascertain whether the threat was specific or general.

No place, date or timing of the likely attack was established, sources told this newspaper, but Ugandan officers nonetheless concluded that they would take no chances and decided to act fast. 

France had also issued similar threat of a likely terror attack.

Following high-level briefings, a joint force comprising Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) operatives, Crime Intelligence, regular UPDF, police and Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce elements accelerated the tracking of the suspected outlaws that had been on their radar for months.

The first major breakthrough, according to security, was when CMI operatives who had been tracking Howard Openjuru,  alleged to be a commander of the DR Congo-based Uganda Homeland Liberation Front (UHLF) rebel group, from Paidha in West Nile and arrested him in Njeru towards the eastern part of the country.

This newspaper broke the story of the arrest of Openjuru, a fierce critic on social media of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) government and an open advocate of its removal by all means necessary, in its Sunday edition.

Addressing journalists yesterday, Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga said a joint security team had taken into custody thirteen suspects, eight believe to be involved in subversive activities and with active links to ADF.

He provided no evidence to back the claims, but said the suspects were being interrogated at the Special Investigations Directorate in Kireka, which is jointly manned by police and army.

The lead agency or officer of the investigations remained unclear.  

“The suspects were surveilled and tracked down to one of the churches (Church of Christ for Alerted Saints). There was some bit of resistance [by the suspects during arrest], but our task teams managed to arrest eight of them,” Mr Enanga said.

We are withholding names of the other suspects, pending their appearance in court, although Mr Enanga did not specify when they would be arraigned in court and preferred charges.

He, however, said the detainees subscribe to ADF and indicated that more arrests of other rebel leaders, collaborators, agents and operatives are likely amid ongoing crackdown.

Mr Enanga added: “We impounded a vehicle from them suspected to be a property of ADF registration Number UAV 629S, a Toyota Premio, and we also got two additional motorcycles registration numbers UFK 162A and UER 049F.”

Counter-terrorism teams, following a tip off, arrested two of the suspected ADF members during a sting operation in Nyakabingo Cell in Kasese Municipality.

“These two suspects have not been in the area for the last ten years. They were [living] in eastern DRC. They claim that they had come back on the land that belonged to one of their grandfathers. The explanation that they were giving us was quite suspicious, we are now processing them on grounds of subversion,” Mr Enanga said.

We could not independently verify the alleged links of the suspects to ADF and the security forces did not tender any evidence to incriminate any of the dozen-plus in custody.  

The Defence and Military spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, while addressing yesterday’s press conference, said ADF and al-Shabaab, working with their international allies, continue pose a threat to Uganda and the region.

The UPDF and other security agencies, she said, however, have capacity to detect, prevent, confront and degrade the capacity of the terrorists, through both overt and covert operations.  

The ADF is a Uganda-born rebel group that in the 1990s 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 Congo from where, under Jamil Mukulu, they continue to unleash mayhem, this time on rural Congolese citizens.

Sporadic onslaughts by Congolese forces and a brief lightning air raid by UPDF in December 2017 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.

The group’s mapped operational areas include North Kivu and Ituri provinces, in DR Congo, where Uganda says it continues to pose an imminent threat.  

Highly-placed security and intelligence sources have over the months told this newspaper that plans for Ugandan and Congolese forces to jointly attack the ADF bases have been on-and-off the table from May, this year, when the first raid was planned to happen.

President Museveni would later say that Kampala is awaiting a final decision from Kinshasa.

According to impeccable sources, Gen Museveni, the West’s security doyen in the Great Lakes, briefed United States Ambassador to Uganda, Ms Natalie Brown, that up to 345 rebel and militia groups were holed up in eastern DR Congo, some openly cultivating, and asked for Washington’s backing in the event Uganda chooses to strike.

The US Department of the Treasury in 2019 already sanctioned half a dozen ADF commanders, including Mukulu’s successor Baluku, “under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program[me] for their roles in serious human rights abuse, with a subsequent United Nations sanctions listing for Baluku in early 2020 under the DRC sanctions program,” the US Department of State noted in a message posted on its website on March 10, 2021.

At yesterday’s press conference, Brig Byekwaso, referring to the ADF threat, said: “They are out there and we know sometimes they have cells within the country for which they spring and do what they are good at, but we maintain and make sure that the forces jointly remain alert and very vigilant to minimise such occurrences.”

An IS-affiliated website claimed this month that it had exploded an improvised explosive device (IED) and killed security forces at a police facility in Kawempe, but Ugandan officials, while confirming a blast, discount the account that it was an IED or claimed some lives.

Joint security statement about terror 

As you are all aware the UK and the French Embassy, respectively issued travel advisories and terror alerts to their citizens intending to travel to Uganda and those in Uganda. They further called upon them to be extra alert and vigilant as they go about their daily activities.

As the Joint Security Agencies, we do appreciate and take cognisance of the advisories to their respective citizens.  Our Joint Counter Terror teams have subjected the respective alerts to a process of validation for specifics, to help determine whether these threats are imminent or not.  These specifics are still not readily available.

In this very respect, they continue to review our security posture across the country which continues to be maintained as normal. The public should rest assured that our threat levels and counter terror responses, are constantly under review.  They should therefore, remain calm but vigilant. We wish to add that, in case they come across any suspicious behaviour or anything of public concern, they should alert the nearest security agency.

Once again, if we feel it necessary to heighten our threat level, during this period, we shall definitely do so. Our task teams do take the security and safety of all Ugandans and visitors in the country, as top priority.  We have previously thwarted several plots, both foreign and domestic, since the double attack of 2010 in Kampala and will continue to jealously guard our country, from all forms of threats.

CP Fred Enanga, Police Spokesperson


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