Ugandan capital under tight security after deadly bombings

Wednesday November 17 2021
Members of Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) walk near a bomb explosion site in Kampala.

Members of Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) walk near a bomb explosion site in the capital Kampala on November 16, 2021. PHOTO | SUMY SADRUNI | AFP


Armed police and soldiers patrolled the Ugandan capital Wednesday as security was stepped up following twin suicide bombings claimed by the Islamic State that killed three people in the heart of Kampala.

Ugandans have been urged to remain on high alert after Tuesday's attacks, the latest in a string of bombings targeting the East African nation.

Kampala explosion.

A forensic marking in Kampala, Uganda, on November 16, 2021 near the site of a suicide bombing. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG

Checkpoints have been set up on several roads in Kampala, while the areas where the two bombings occurred have been closed off to motorists as teams of investigators scour the blast sites.

"Security has been stepped up in and around Kampala to ensure the public is safe from any possible dangers," Kampala Metropolitan police spokesman Luke Owoyesigyire told AFP. 

"We encourage the public to remain on high alert as threats are real and high."


Uganda deployed the military in Kampala City shortly after the explosions on November 16, 2021. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NMG

Tuesday's attacks occurred within minutes of each other, with two suicide bombers on motorcycles disguised as local "bodaboda" motorcycle taxi drivers detonating a device near Parliament, while a third attacker targeted a checkpoint near the Central Police Station.

Several dozen people were injured, many of them police.

"I did not go to work in the market today because of the attacks yesterday," 31-year-old mother of two Sylvia Nabukeera, who works in Kampala's commercial hub of Kikuubo, told AFP. 

"I have temporarily suspended work to take care of my kids until it is safe to go to work," she added.

Uganda explosion.

A bomb squad member of Uganda police prepares to detonate a suspicious gift wrapped box tied to a fence, near the Central Police Station in the capital Kampala on November 16, 2021. PHOTO | BADRU KATUMBA | AFP

'Maintain vigilance'

The bombings, which police had said were the work of "domestic terrorists" linked to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group active in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, followed two attacks last month which Uganda also blamed on the ADF.

Investigations were ongoing, with police in pursuit of suspects, after foiling a third bombing on Tuesday and shooting dead the attacker.

In a statement late Tuesday, President Yoweri Museveni urged citizens to "maintain vigilance of checking people at entry points to bus parks, hotels, churches, mosques, markets".

Ugandan police last month arrested a number of alleged ADF operatives and warned that extremists were believed to be plotting a new attack on "major installations".

Uganda police investigate Kampala explosion.

Ugandan police officers in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) scour the site of a bomb explosion in front of Central Police Station in the capital Kampala on November 16, 2021. PHOTO | LAWRENCE KITATTA | AFP

The arrests followed two blasts last month -- a bus explosion near Kampala that wounded many people and a bombing at a roadside eatery in the capital that killed one woman.

Uganda has also blamed the group for a foiled bomb attack in August on the funeral of an army commander who led a major offensive against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Washington in March this year linked the ADF to IS, which in April 2019 began to claim some ADF attacks on social media, presenting the group as its regional branch -- the Islamic State Central Africa Province, or ISCAP.

kampala 3

Police cordon off roads leading into and out of Kampala central business district on November 16, 2021. PHOTO | JULIUS BARIGABA | THE EASTAFRICAN | NMG

The ADF, historically a Ugandan rebel group, has been accused of killing thousands of civilians in eastern DRC. 

"It's increasingly clear that the ADF is refocusing its attention on Uganda," said Kristof Titeca, an expert on the group at the University of Antwerp.

"It may link with an increased influence of jihadist elements within the ADF in the last couple of years," he told AFP.

The ADF is considered by experts to be the bloodiest of more than 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two regional wars a quarter of a century ago.

Uganda bomb explosion.

A firefighter sprays water to extinguish a fire caused by a bomb explosion near Parliament building in Kampala, Uganda, on November 16, 2021. PHOTO | IVAN KABUYE | AFP

In 2010, twin bombings in Kampala targeting fans watching the World Cup final left 76 people dead, with Al-Shabaab claiming responsibility.

The attack was seen as revenge for Uganda sending troops to Somalia as part of an African Union mission to confront Al-Shabaab.