What you need to know:
President Museveni has warned ‘terrorists’ who recently bombed a pork joint, and two streets in Kampala city centre, plus a bus, that they either surrender or get killed. Derrick Kiyonga compares elements of the latest attacks with those of the 2010 twin bombing in Kampala, the worst in Uganda’s recent history.
The recent terror attacks in Kampala have forced the government into a swift and brutal counterterrorism offensive in which several of the suspected attackers have been hunted and shot dead.
These unrelenting shoot-to-kill operations have provoked criticisms from human rights activists, who say the terror and bomb suspects are killed even where they have already been disabled or subdued.
But who are the terror, bomb suspects?
When Kampala was bombed in 2010, the Somalia-based terror organisation al-Shabaab, which is affiliated to al–Qaeda, claimed responsibility.
But in contrast, the bomb attacks launched this year have been claimed by the Islamic State or ISIS or IS or ISIL.
For the 2010 attacks, government agreed with the claims that al-Shabaab was behind the terror attacks.
Subsequently, one of the charges the 12 men arrested over the crime had to contend with was being masterminds of the attack and belonging to al-Shabaab, a blacklisted terrorist organisation under the Anti-terrorism Act.
But the problem for the State was that by the time the 2010 Kampala bombings took place, al-Shabaab hadn’t specifically been listed in the Anti-terrorism Act as a terrorist organisation. In order to plug the gap, the prosecution tried to draw a link between the al–Shabaab, and al-Qaeda, which at that time was listed, but it wasn’t enough to convince trial judge Alfonse Owiny-Dollo.
“It follows from the above, that the prosecution has failed to prove the charge against any of the accused, from A1 to A12, of belonging to a terrorist organisation in contravention of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
“Having found that the provision in the Act, regarding the terrorist organisation, does not cover al–Shabaab, which the accused persons are charged with having belonged to, I find it pointless to determine whether, or not, the accused persons were members of a terrorist organisation; which is the third ingredient of the offense,” Justice Owiny-Dollo ruled.
“I take cognizance of the fact that under the Act, the offence of terrorism is not limited to ‘belonging to a terrorist organization’ within the meaning assigned to it by the Act. It also includes the commission of a terrorist act; without the need to belong to any organisation at all,” he added.
But this time, it seems the al-Shabaab isn’t yet in the picture and the government has attributed all the attacks not to ISIS, but to its affiliate: the elusive rebel outfit, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, which has stuck to its script of maintaining silence.
Domestic terror cells?
Whereas the counter-terrorism operation of 2010 saw the arrest of Kenyans and Tanzanians, the belief in security, for now, is that the recent terror attacks are a result of domestic terror cells.
“Our intelligence indicates that these are domestic terror groups that are linked to ADF,” police spokesperson Fred Enanga said in the aftermath of the attacks.
His position was reinforced by President Museveni on the evening of November 16, hours after the bombs had exploded.
“Today at 10:00 hours, some pigs (in reality manipulated and confused Bazzukulu [grandchildren], apparently, blew themselves up, one near the IGG [Inspector General of Government] office and the other near CPS [Central Police Station],” Mr Museveni tweeted.
“The real pigs are people like [Sheikh Sulaiman] Nsubuga, the so-called Sheikh that confused young people at Lweza [Entebbe Road]. If blowing oneself up will send one to Jaanaa [paradise], let him blow himself up as an example instead of manipulating young children.”
From all the press conferences that the police have held so far, they have insisted that improvised explosive devices (IED) used to cause havoc in Kampala have been locally made. But those of 2010 had evidence in court that they were got from Somalia before they were transported to the Ugandan capital via Nairobi, Kenya.
A special agent from America’s domestic intelligence and security service, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), (PW35), who examined the debris of the explosives retrieved from the Kyadondo Rugby Club, the Ethiopian Village Restaurant, and Makindye House, revealed in his report that he found them to be IEDs of similar build, functioning, and detonation impact and the manner of their construction, including the materials used, and the chemical compounds used in them, were strikingly similar.
When he compared IEDs from Kampala with those recovered from Somalia, which he had also examined, the FBI agent said he found them to be extensively similar in build, materials and chemical compounds used, manner of construction, fusing system, and mode of functioning.
Curiously, one of the most sticking things that have been observed in the recent terror attacks is the low casualty rates.
The first attack in the Kawempe township near Kampala in October took one life.
Still, in October, another attack on a bus heading to western Uganda had the suicide bomber as the only death registered; while six people died from this month’s attacks at CPS) and Parliamentary Avenue - with two of the dead being suicide bombers.
Mr Museveni has attributed the few fatalities to the alertness of security officials but it is safe to say for now it is not clear why so far the attackers haven’t targeted densely populated locations yet the hatchers of the 2010 terror attacks had the intention of causing maximum destruction and the places they attacked had many people.
Nevertheless, the acts of terrorism and trial of the suspects in courts of law have produced mixed results.
Trial of terrorism, bomb suspects
The State has so far failed to try 22 people it accuses of the 2017 brutal murder of former Assistant Inspector General of Police (IGP) Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his bodyguard Kenneth Erau, and driver Godfrey Wambewa.
On the other hand, in 2020, the Court of Appeal quashed the terrorism conviction that the International Crimes Division (ICD) handed Jamatil-Salafiya sect, and other six Muslim leaders charged with terrorism.
Hadn’t the Court of Appeal intervened, Yunus Kamoga, his brother Sheikh Murta Mudde Bukenya, Sheikh Siraji Kawooya, and Sheikh Fahad Kalungi were to spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Similarly, Yusuf Kakande and Abdulsalam Sekyanja were to spend 30 years in prison after the ICD judges had ruled that they had uttered statements that constituted terrorism.
The recent prosecution failures notwithstanding, there are currently seven individuals serving different prison terms for their roles in the 2010 twin bombing at the Kyadondo Rugby Club, and Ethiopian Village Restaurant that left at least 76 people dead and scores injured.
Of the seven jailed, Issa Ahmed Luyima will spend the rest of his life in prison, while his brother Hassan Haruna Luyima will serve 50 years in prison. Also, Kenyans - Hussein Hassan Agade, Idris Magondu, Habib Suleiman Njoroge, and Mohamed Ali Mohamed, will spend the rest of their lives in prison, while Tanzanian Selemani Hijar Nyamandondo will serve 50 years in jail.
Choice of terror, bombing sites
Edris Nsubuga, who was handed 25 years in prison, didn’t waste court’s time by admitting the role he played in the plot and thus was turned into a State witness.
Nsubuga explained how, together with Luyima, they scouted many places but they settled for Kyadondo Rugby Club grounds, the Ethiopian Village Restaurant and Makindye because all kinds of people gathered there.
Issa Luyima, the instigator, later approved those venues.
“Places such as bars, restaurants, and other places where people hang out are public places. They are visited by people of all nationalities, races, occupations, and station in life, political beliefs, and religious affiliations; and so, the delivery or placement of explosives in such places and detonating them would most certainly be intended to, and actually, achieve the widest and most indiscriminate impact. This was clearly the intention behind the placement of the explosives at Kyadondo Rugby Club, and Ethiopian Village Restaurant where the perpetrators of the evil deed knew all categories of people would converge to watch the final game of the World Cup being staged in South Africa at that time; and the Makindye House Restaurant, which was apparently a popular destination,” Justice Owiny- Dollo observed.
Connecting the dots among bomb, terror suspects
Suicide bombers have been a main fixture in both the July 2010 and this year’s attacks. However, the difference is that while the suicide bombers of 2010 were from Somalia and Kenya, the ones responsible for the 2021 attacks, at least according to security agencies, are Ugandans.
On November 16, Mr Museveni tweeted that the bomber at CPS was Mansoor Uthman, while the one who attacked the IGG’s office was Abdallah Wanjusi, while Muzafari Matovu reportedly blew himself up on the bus en-route western Uganda.
However, in 2010, it was a different scenario, with Edris Nsubuga, a Ugandan, fearing to detonate himself. He left that job to one Mursal, a Kenyan, who detonated himself at Kyadondo Rugby Club grounds, whereas Kakasule, a Somali, detonated himself at Ethiopian Village Restaurant following the guidance of Haruna Luyima, a Ugandan.
Once Haruna Luyima deposited Kakasule at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant, he went and planted two IEDs at Makindye House but they never exploded due to clumsy wiring. Just like in 2010, there have been bombs that have for one reason or another failed to explode.
In the recent incidents, police said it discovered an unexploded device near CPS on November 16, and Mr Museveni soon after revealed how security had foiled a planned terror attack in Bwaise, Kampala.
He said in the process, security personnel arrested Musa Mudasiri, who had a bomb but was later reported dead, but after he had revealed information about the city bombings.
It is not yet clear how much information the security agents will get as a result of those failed attacks.
But many of the 2010 bombing perpetrators or accomplices were later convicted.
When security agents found an unexploded explosive device at Makindye House in the 2010 bomb attacks, alongside it was a Nokia phone with serial No. 351528042707070. The Ugandan security personnel handed the Nokia phone to Kenyan police officer Christopher Oguso, a phone call and phone set analyst.
From his analysis, Oguso established that this phone had used two telephone numbers in Kenya; 254732783568 and 254734045678. These two Kenyan numbers had constantly been in communication with two phone numbers 254737588445 and 254732812681 in the period immediately before the Kampala blasts; using the Short Messaging Service (SMS).
Oguso also established that phone number 254732783568 was switched off on July 6, 2010, after use at Kawangare – Nairobi; while phone number 254734045678 was switched off on July 23, 2010, after use at Githithia, Nairobi.
He also established that Phone number 254737588445 was switched off on July 10, 2010, after use at Pangani, Nairobi; while phone number 254732812681 was also switched off just before the Kampala blasts.
The Kenyan police officer established from analysing the call data records (CDRs) of all the phone numbers in question that phone number 254737588445 had enquired from Kenya Power & Lighting Company over electricity bill for metre account number 2759149-01.
This metre was traced to the property of a Kenyan landlord, who identified its user as his tenant then, Hussein Hassan Agade, who Justice Owiny-Dollo sentenced to life in prison.
The landlord gave the Kenyan police the tenancy agreement between himself and Agade, and the phone number for Agade as 254715855449.
Upon his arrest, Agade disclosed to Kenyan police that phone number 254732812681 belonged to Basa (Issa Luyima), a Ugandan he had trained in Somalia, and had a house in Namasuba, where the bombs were stored before the attacks.
Issa Luyima was thereafter arrested in Mombasa by Kenyan police having fled Uganda a few days before the attack, fearing he was on the radar of security agencies and he would be the first to be arrested.
In the recent bombings, how security agencies swing into action and use the footprints left by the latest suspected terror and bomb attackers remains to be seen.