Monday, July 19, 2010

20 arrested over attacks in Uganda

The police said that the latest suspects included people from Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia. More than 60 agents from the FBI are in Uganda, assisting in the investigations.

20 Arrested Over Attacks in Uganda
From The New York Times
By Josh Kron - July 17, 2010
KAMPALA, Uganda — The police have arrested a second batch of suspects in connection to last Sunday’s terrorist attacks in this capital that killed 76 people, and they said suicide bombers were probably involved in the attacks.

The Shabab, an Islamist insurgency in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the three bombs that struck two popular nightspots where soccer fans had gathered to watch the final match of the World Cup.

The police said that the latest suspects included people from Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Some of the suspects were been arrested while trying to leave the country and were caught near the borders with Sudan and Rwanda, the police said.

Local news media quoted the police as saying that at least 20 people had been arrested.

“I think the investigations are proceeding well,” said Judith Nabakooba, a police spokeswoman. “We are working in a dedicated way.”

The arrests come as Kampala is preparing to host the 15th African Union summit meeting this month; over 50 African heads of state are expected to attend.

Investigations and new security measures have continued in Kampala, where the mood is tense. More than 60 agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation are in Uganda, assisting in the investigations, according to the United States Embassy.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

'At your service, Osama' - the African Bin Laden behind the Uganda bombings

From The Daily Telegraph
By Colin Freeman and Mike Pflanz in Nairobi
Published: 2:45PM BST Saturday, 17 July 2010
'At your service, Osama' - the African Bin Laden behind the Uganda bombings
As Somalia's al Shebab militants claim responsibility for bombings in Kampala, the Telegraph profiles their spiritual leader, accountant-turned-jihadi Ahmed Abdi Godane.

The leader of Somalia's al-Shebab militant movement, he prefers to be heard rather than seen, ranting away in radio broadcasts from his group's strongholds in northern Mogadishu. Thanks to his fatwahs against pop music, foreign films and even televised football, he already has a captive audience - as of last week, though, he made the rest of the world take notice too.

"What happened in Kampala was just the beginning," he warned in his latest broadcast, gloating over Sunday's twin suicide bombings in the Ugandan capital, in which Shebab-backed "martyrs" slaughtered 76 people as they watched the World Cup final. "If Uganda and Burundi do not withdraw their troops from Somalia, there will be more bombings like these."

Delivered with the same fiery rhetoric with which he recently declared himself "at Osama bin Laden's service", Godane's warning confirmed what many outside Somalia have long dreaded: that the Shebab, which has imposed a Taliban-style regime across much of the anarchic, war-torn land, would one day begin exporting its brand of Islamist violence to the wider world.

Last Sunday's attacks, designed to punish both Uganda and Burundi for providing troops to support Mogadishu's shaky Western-backed provisional government, marked the first time the group had struck outside its own borders. Now, having proved the Shebab's credentials as the world's newest international terrorist group, security officials fear it is only a matter of time before Godane, also known as Abu Zubayr, orders similar attacks against the West.

"This is a move into a different league altogether, and will put Godane and al Shebab on the world map," one Nairobi-based security official told The Sunday Telegraph. "He is very much of the international jihads mindset, and wants Islamic rule across the world, from Somalia to Alaska."

Just like the piracy crisis off Somalia's coastline, the Shebab's declaration of wider war is a sign of how Somalia's problems are becoming those of the wider region. The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, whose security forces yesterday arrested 20 people in connection with the bombings, has called for more troops to be sent Somalia, this time not as bodyguards to the government, but to hunt down the Shebab.

"We are going on the offensive and will get these people," he vowed, calling on other African nations to help beef up the force from its current 5,000 to at least 20,000.

But many fear that would play directly into Godane's hands, allowing him to raise the spectre of a foreign "invasion" against which more Somalis would flock to the Shebab. Such a scenario could ignite a region-wide conflict, pitting the mainly Christian nations of the rest of East Africa against the predominantly Muslim population of Somalia.

Until now, the Shebab - which means "youth" - has thrived through the very fact that the rest of the world has left Somalia to its own devices. Just like the Taliban in Afghanistan, its leaders first won credibility by imposing a degree of law and order in a land plagued by warlords and criminals, and devoid of proper government for 20 years.

Today it controls much of southern Somalia, as well as parts of the capital, Mogadishu. But the relative security it provides has proved a Faustian pact for those who live under its rule. As well as harsh Sharia punishments, such as stonings and amputations, the Shebab imposes religious edicts as extreme as anything the Taliban dreamed up.

The list of "banned" activities, for example, goes well beyond just the obvious targets like music, drink and fraternisation between the sexes. It also includes banning women from wearing bras - on the basis that they showcase the chest - and banning men watching the World Cup: in the stern words of a Shebab spokesman, "they will not benefit anything or get any experience by watching mad men jumping up and down."

Instead, the Shebab encourages more wholesome forms of recreation, such as last year's notorious Koranic recital contest, in which a teenaged winner was awarded prizes of an AK-47, two hand grenades and an anti-tank mine.

Until recently, Western diplomats took comfort that such an odious vision at least had no ambitions beyond Somalia's borders. The focus of the Shebab's military efforts was mainly against the Western-backed transitional government, which it sees as Western stooges, and which currently controls little more than a few blocks of Mogadishu. But in the past year, the Shebab has taken on a more internationalist outlook, recruiting hundreds of foreign fighters into its ranks and advertising Somalia as a safe base from which to wage global jihad.

Much of that dramatic change in direction is put down to Godane, who last year issued a blood-curdling jihadist video called entitled "At your service, Osama". In it, he urged all Somalis to follow the al Qaeda leader, and vowed that "the wars will not end until Islamic Sharia is implemented in all continents in the world."

He is, nonetheless, an unlikely contender to become Africa's answer to bin Laden: born in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, he is described as small, slightly-built figure in his late 30s, whose early career included a spell as an accountant for an airline. In the late 1990s, he joined al Itihad al Islamiya, a now-defunct militant group, and went to Afghanistan to fight.

He and his followers quarrelled with Itihad's leadership when it mooted the idea of peaceful politics after September 11, producing the nucleus of what would go on to become the Shebab today.

However, last week's bombings were not their first taste of foreign blood. In 2003 and 2004, the same splinter group were responsible for a string of murders of Western aid workers, including Richard and Enid Eyeington, a British couple who ran a popular school in Somaliland. While eight men were subsequently sentenced to death for the murders, Godan, according to the US State Department, was "implicated" in the planning.

Today, his main role is as the Shebab's spiritual leader, although like Mullah Omar, the one-eyed ruler of the Taliban, he is extremely reclusive. He rarely appears in public, and is careful never to have his photograph taken - mindful, it seems, of the fate of his comrade Adan Hashi Ayro, who was killed by a US missile strike in 2008.

"Apparently he turns up on the battlefield quite often, but comes dressed just in jeans and a baseball cap to blend in," said Abdi Aynte, the author of a recent research paper on the Shebab, who has interviewed some of Godane's former comrades.

What makes him effective, though, is not his battlefield experience but his background in finance and airlines. "He knows how to move money and people, both of which have been useful in building up links with foreign jihadists", said Mr Aynte. Western intelligence officials estimate Godane may now have recruited up to 500 foreign jihadists in Somalia, some drawn from warzones like Iraq and Afghanistan, others from diaspora communities in Britain and America. The former bring a wealth of guerrilla expertise, but it the latter that cause Washington and London the real worries - they give the Shebab the potential to spread their mayhem to the streets of London and elsewhere.

"Despite all the West's talk about the war on terror, al Shebab has been allowed to become much more powerful and extreme than it used to be," said Rashid Abdi, a Naroibi-based Somali expert with the International Crisis Group thinktank. "Countries with big diaspora communities, like the US and Britain, should now be especially concerned."

Such fears are shared by British police, who claim to have detected evidence of Shebab funding networks within the 100,000-strong Somali community. The British government points out that the vast majority support only moderate Islam, but to quote Godane, it only needs a few people "at Osama's service" to cause the damage – and judging by a recent trip that Mr Abdi made to London, already some are showing signs of radicalisation.

"I was in Shepherd's Bush, where five years ago, all the young Somali men were wearing jeans and trainers," he said. "Now many are growing beards and wearing robes. Sure, a change of wardrobe proves nothing. But I have seen how communities get sucked into the al-Qaeda web, and I was worried by what I saw."

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Somali-based terror group al Shabaab behind triple bombing that killed 76 in Kampala, Uganda is funded by al Qaeda

  • Al Shabaab, the Somalia-based terror group that has claimed responsibility for July 11's triple suicide blasts that killed 76 people in Uganda's capital, Kampala, has in recent months built up Pakistan-style terror training camps.
  • Intelligence officials say they believe al Qaeda is using al Shabaab as a symbiotic host body, allowing its operatives access to other African countries. "As much as we're looking at al Shabaab, they are riding on the back of a more experienced player," said Col. Herbert Mbonye, the director of counterterrorism for Uganda's military intelligence body.
  • A U.S. intelligence official said information gleaned from militant communications shows links between al Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen.

From The Wall Street Journal
By WILL CONNORS in Kampala, Uganda, SIOBHAN GORMAN in Washington, D.C., and SARAH CHILDRESS
Somali Militant Group Built Training Camps, al Qaeda Links
The terror group behind last weekend's deadly Uganda blasts recruited a local man to coordinate the attacks and received funds from al Qaeda, say investigators, as it extends its reach beyond lawless Somalia.

Al Shabaab, the Somalia-based group that has claimed responsibility for July 11's triple suicide blasts that killed 76 people in Uganda's capital, Kampala, has in recent months built up Pakistan-style terror training camps. One top leader, Sheikh Muktar Robow, has helped to transform the group from a local insurgency into a global jihadist organization modeled on, and swearing allegiance to, al Qaeda.

That picture of the group, and its development under Mr. Robow, emerged from interviews with Ugandan, Kenyan and U.S. investigators; current and former U.S. intelligence officials; and Somalis, including a member of the militant group.

A U.S. intelligence official said information gleaned from militant communications shows links between al Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and Yemen. U.S. officials also see evidence of overlap in training and membership and say their working assumption is that al Shabaab has several hundred core members, similar to the numbers in al Qaeda in Pakistan and in al Qaeda's Yemeni outpost.

Intelligence officials say they believe al Qaeda is using the Somali group as a symbiotic host body, allowing its operatives access to other African countries. "As much as we're looking at al Shabaab, they are riding on the back of a more experienced player," said Col. Herbert Mbonye, the director of counterterrorism for Uganda's military intelligence body.

That relationship has raised red flags at U.S. intelligence agencies. In the past 18 months, militant training camps have emerged in Somalia similar to those that developed in Pakistan's tribal areas, a U.S. intelligence official said. Intelligence officials are now following about two dozen individuals from the U.S. and other Western countries who may have been affiliated with al Shabaab, or gone through these camps.

"It's quite an alarming story," the U.S. intelligence official said.

Al Shabaab's relationship with al Qaeda appears to have been cultivated in part by Mr. Robow, a top commander. Also known as Abu Mansur, he is among the U.S. government's most wanted terrorists.

Mr. Robow offered a warning of sorts ahead of Sunday's blasts, which hit a restaurant and a sports club where people had gathered to watch the final match of the World Cup. Speaking during a public address at Friday prayers earlier this month, Mr. Robow called for attacks against countries that had sent some 6,000 troops under African Union auspices to support the Somali government's offensive against al Shabaab. "We tell the Muslim youths and Mujahedeen, wherever they are in the Muslim world, to attack, explode and burn the embassies of Burundi and Uganda," Mr. Robow said, according to local media reports.

Mr. Robow grew up in southern Mogadishu as a devoted student of the Quran, according to public speeches he has made. He studied law at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, and then returned to Mogadishu to teach Arabic for several years. He is about 40, U.S. officials believe, based on a birth date on an Eritrean passport he used.

In 2000, Mr. Robow traveled to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban and al Qaeda, which used the strife-torn South Asian country to plot the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. In Afghanistan, Mr. Robow learned to fight, fire a sniper rifle and conceal roadside bombs, an al Shabaab official in Somalia said. He stayed less than a year, leaving before U.S.-led forces swept into Afghanistan.

Back in Somalia, Mr. Robow became a member of the Union of Islamic Courts, which aimed to establish strict Shariah law in the country, which had been largely lawless for a decade. The group came to power in 2006. Mr. Robow helped to establish an Islamist government and founded al Shabaab, a youth brigade that would serve as the union's armed wing.

The Islamist government soon collapsed. Al Shabaab endured. Mr. Robow, a skilled orator, became an al Shabaab spokesman and eventually deputy commander.

Al Shabaab, which controls vast territory in Somalia, has been engaged in a running battle with Somalia's transitional federal government. The group has pinned the government to a strip of the capital, Mogadishu, and largely prevented officials and parliament from meeting.

Beyond his ambition to overthrow Somalia's government, Mr. Robow has advocated linking the group's ambitions to global jihad. Through media interviews and in videos posted online, he sought to attract fighters in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Iraq, largely because foreign recruits could replenish al Shabaab's ranks and aid its finances. In a 2008 interview, he lamented that there "are not enough non-Somali brothers."

The same year, the U.S. Treasury Department declared al Shabaab a terrorist group and named Mr. Robow its "spiritual leader." Mr. Robow later released a statement saying the group was "honored" to be included on the list but expressed disappointment al Shabaab wasn't ranked higher.

Senior U.S. administration officials said some foreign fighters who answered Mr. Robow's calls—some of whom have "close links" with al Qaeda—came with experience, funding and the agenda of establishing Somalia as a base from which to attack Western targets.

The foreigners also brought new tactics. Roadside bombs and suicide blasts, once unheard-of in Somalia, are now part of al Shabaab's armory. The group's commanders have banned dancing, mustaches and, most recently, watching World Cup games on television. Fighters punish offenders with floggings or public amputations.

On Wednesday, armed al Shabaab fighters drove through towns in southern Somalia, blaring a warning to residents through megaphones mounted on their vehicles, according to witnesses contacted by telephone. "You must collaborate with [us] and allow your sons to fight the enemy of Allah," Abu Maryama, a senior al Shabaab official told crowds in the southwestern town of Baidoa. "If you pay no heed to this … you will be considered as another enemy and face punishment."

Harsh retribution and indiscriminate deaths have sapped public support for the group, and created rifts within it. Mr. Robow has been caught between those who want to focus the insurgency in Somali—and retain a measure of popular support— and the global jihadists who don't care about local backing, according the al Shabaab colleague. Mr. Robow, a Somali who has long opposed foreign intervention in his country, may not be considered radical enough for the new agenda, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels based think tank.In the Uganda attack, the group's two factions apparently found middle ground.

The blasts have presented U.S. officials with a quandary. They see a need to step up support and involvement in the region, but they haven't determined the best course. "Violence always breeds urgency," the U.S. intelligence official said. "The question is: What [to do]?"The U.S. has been tracking al Shabaab and al Qaeda in Somalia for years, officials say. The Central Intelligence Agency works with military special forces units to collect intelligence and pinpoint targets, a former senior intelligence official said. The U.S. also works closely with the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments on counterterrorism operations.

Those efforts have grown in recent years as U.S. officials discovered as many as 20 Americans from Minnesota making their way to Somalia, including one who was determined to have been among five suicide bombers in an October 2008 attack in northern Somalia.

The intelligence-gathering paid off last year when U.S. Special Forces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a top operative linked to both al Qaeda and al Shabaab who was believed to be linked to 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

But U.S. Special Forces units and intelligence officials have been grappling with a broader response to the growing terror threat from Somalia. Calling in airstrikes could fuel retaliatory measures against a weak Somali government. It could also stir up anti-U.S. sentiment that would advance the group's agenda, said the U.S. intelligence official.

"If you strike a camp, it makes you feel good, but what do you do the next day?" the official said. "You don't effectively eliminate the threat."

On Thursday, an al Shabaab leader underscored that point, delivering a message on the radio in Mogadishu congratulating what he called the Martyr Saleh Nabhan Brigade for the Kampala attacks.

Intelligence agencies have warned about al Shabaab's growing ambition to attack other countries—particularly Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya—as well as the West, the U.S. intelligence official said.U.S. intelligence hadn't picked up many direct threats against Uganda, but there has been a general concern about attacks targeting countries that supply troops to A.U. forces.

Investigators in Uganda say they are questioning a Ugandan man, Ali Isa Ssenkumba, who they say has confessed to helping plan the attacks.

Mr. Ssenkumba, who is in his late thirties and hails from a farming community outside Kampala, told investigators he was recruited by Somali men who persuaded him that he could have success in business in Somalia, according to a Ugandan military official close to the investigation.

Posing as a businessman, Mr. Ssenkumba made frequent trips to Somalia, where he attended an al Shabaab training camp, the Ugandan official said. Mr. Ssenkumba told investigators many other Ugandans are at al Shabaab's Somalia training facilities.

This person says Mr. Ssenkumba become familiar with guards at the borders between Uganda and Sudan and Uganda and Kenya, and received money and coordinated logistics for roughly two dozen al Shabaab members in Uganda who are suspected of plotting the triple suicide blast. Mr. Ssenkumba said, and investigators say they separately determined, that the attack was partially funded by informal money transfers from al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Police in Kenya said they arrested Mr. Ssenkumba last week, before the attack, and handed him over to Ugandan investigators Tuesday, after the bombings.

According to Nicholas Kamwende, the commanding officer of Kenya's anti-terrorism police unit, Mr. Ssenkumba walked up to an immigration officer on the Kenya-Somalia border some time before the Kampala attacks and turned himself in.

"He said he didn't want to stay any longer with al Shabaab, that he wanted to go home," Mr. Kamwende said. "We didn't have anything to hold him on and we thought the Ugandans would be in a better position to exploit what he knew."

Mr. Ssenkumba wasn't made available to comment and it wasn't immediately apparent whether he was represented by a lawyer. Neither Mr. Kamwende nor Ugandan officials would say whether Mr. Ssenkumba provided information before the impending attack.Ugandan officials say Mr. Ssenkumba didn't turn himself in voluntarily.

—Nicholas Baryio in Kampala and Keith Johnson
in Washington contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Gorman at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Over 50 dead as three bomb blasts rock Ugandan capital Kampala, terrorist attack possible: official

50 die in Kampala bomb blasts

Photo from Daily Monitor: Some of those injured in the bomb blast at Kyaddondo Rugby grounds in Kampala – Photo by Wandera Ouma

50 die in Kampala bomb blasts
From Daily Monitor by Alex B. Atuhaire & Andrew Bagala
Monday, July 12 2010 at 02:06:
(Kampala) - More than 50 people have been killed in three separate bomb blasts in the Ugandan capital – Kampala as the residents watched the 2010 World Cup final on giant screens.

Police confirmed that 13 people, more than half of them foreigners were killed at Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala, a Kampala suburb, while Daily Monitor reporters counted about 40 bodies at Kyaddondo rugby grounds where a huge crowd was watching the Spain Vs Netherlands Word Cup final.

Another blast was reported to have gone off in Ntinda, another Kampala surburb, as more than 100 were reported admitted in hospitals and clinics in the capital including the national referral hospital - Mulago.

Over 40 dead as two bomb blasts rock Ugandan capital, terrorist attack possible: official

From xinhuanet.com:
KAMPALA, 12 July 2010 (Xinhua) -- More than 40 people are feared dead after two bomb explosions rocked Kampala, Uganda's capital, on Sunday night, according to a local official.

"Over 40 people could have been killed in the blasts," said Moses Sakira, deputy director of Criminal Investigation Department. He said almost all of the victims were adults.

Uganda's New Vision website put the death toll at at least 33.

"We cannot rule out the terrorist attack possibility now," said Sakira. "It might be possible."

The Somali militia warned to launch attacks targeting civilians in Uganda, which had sent peacekeeping troops to the war-battered Somalia.

But the country's army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said it is still too early to know whether Somali militia were behind the bomb attacks as security forces just started the investigation at the scene.

According to the New Vision website, one explosion targeted the Kyadondo Rugby Club. The blasts occurred minutes after 11 p.m..

Blood, broken chairs, clothes and shoes were seen on the ground at the scene. Security soldiers and rescuers were evacuating and saving the wounded.

The scene has been cordoned off.

A witness who gave his name as Klaus told Xinhua that hundreds of local people were watching the World Cup final in front of a big projector at the club as the blast occurred.

The other blast was reported at the Ethiopian village, in the Kabalagala. The New Vision said a third blast was reported in Ntinda, which the local police did not confirm.
Uganda blasts 'deplorable, cowardly,' says Obama
(AFP) – 35 minutes ago
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama called the deadly explosions that ripped through two restaurants in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Sunday "deplorable and cowardly," a spokesman said.

"The president is deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks, and sends his condolences to the people of Uganda and the loved ones of those who have been killed or injured," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

"The United States is ready to provide any assistance requested by the Ugandan government."

A senior administration official said the United States was in contact with its embassy in Kampala and was in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding requests for assistance from Uganda's government.

At least 23 people were killed in the explosions as crowds watched the World Cup football final, police said.

One blast hit an Ethiopian restaurant in the south of the capital and the other was at a rugby sports club in the east of Kampala, police chief Kale Kayihura told reporters.

"These bombs were definitely targeting World Cup crowds," Kayihura said.
FURTHER REPORTS

Bombs explode at sites in Uganda, 20 deaths feared

Atlanta Journal Constitution - Godfrey Olukya - ‎1 hour ago‎

At Least 23 Killed in Uganda Blasts

Voice of America - ‎1 hour ago‎

AF APNewsAlert

The Associated Press - ‎1 hour ago‎

Deadly blasts hit Ugandan capital

Aljazeera.net - ‎1 hour ago‎

Uganda capital blasts 'kill 23'

BBC News - ‎2 hours ago‎

Explosions rock Ugandan capital, 23 dead: police

Reuters Canada - Richard Lough, Angus MacSwan - ‎2 hours ago‎

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