Next challenge for Congo: International terrorism

Along with Somalia's Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab militants, many intelligence sources are placing blame for the July 11 Uganda bombings on the ADF-NALU, an armed group based in the mountains of eastern Congo.

By , Guest blogger

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    Mourners prepared to bury a victim of the July 11 bombings that killed 76 people watching the World Cup final in Uganda’s capital Kampala. Intelligence sources say the relatively obscure ADF-NALU group, based in the mountains of eastern Congo, helped Somalia's Al Shabab militants carry out the attack.
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Numerous sources in Ugandan intelligence have placed the blame for the Kampala bombings of July 11 on the ADF-NALU, an armed group based in the Ruwenzori mountains in eastern Congo. (See this well-sourced story by Andrew Mwenda regarding alleged ADF involvement in the bombings). According to these allegations, Muslim radicals from the Tabliq community and connected to Al-Shabaab were the masterminds behind the attack.

Some in Uganda have suggested that President Yoweri Museveni is playing up the domestic terror threat so as to clamp down on opposition in the run-up to elections. Others have placed the blame solely on the Somali Al-Shabab group, which claimed responsibility for the attack. Indeed, one might wonder why the ADF-NALU when they have been relatively dormant for several years; most intelligence reports I have seen from the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) indicate that they are mostly composed of Congolese and have little political agenda.

Training camps?

But there are reasons not to dismiss the ADF-NALU outright. UN officials who have recently interviewed ADF-NALU defectors suggest that there are regular visits to the group by foreigners, certainly from Sudan, but apparently also from South Asia and Somalia. Training sites have allegedly been set up for special forces, whose purpose is not known but could include bombings like the ones we saw in Kampala. Raids of ADF-NALU camps have reportedly yielded instruction manuals on how to build makeshift bombs and IEDs. Defectors are often young Muslims who were brought across the border by relatives from Koranic schools in Uganda.

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Past bombings

The ADF-NALU have carried out bombings in the past. According to the government, they were responsible for a string of bombings in restaurants and markets in Kampala and Jinja in the late 1990s, killing 62 and injuring 262. Also, according to Mwenda, the CIA intercepted ADF communication in June, saying they would carry out a bomb attack.

So who are the ADF-NALU? According to Gerard Prunier and Alex de Waal, trouble began with the spread of the initially moderate Islamic Tabliq community to Uganda. The Tabliq are a revivalist sect born in South Asia in the 1920s; it spread to Uganda in the 1980s and established links with the Sudanese government. In 1991, strife broke out within the Ugandan Muslim community when a pro-Iranian candidate was enthroned as their mufti.

The Tabliqfaction protested and 450 students occupied the central mosque in Kampala, promptly leading to their imprisonment.

It was these prisoners, who were released two years later, who later formed the backbone of the Islamist insurgency, led by Jamil Mukulu.

In January 1995, a group called the Ugandan Muslim Liberation Army (UMLA) declared war against Museveni's government, accusing him of having killed Muslims during the civil war. At the same time, a Baganda monarchist movement, the Allied Democratic Movement (ADM), was formed in London, demanding the reinstatement of the Buganda kingdom.

The UMLA launched an attack in western Uganda in February 1995 and was prompted defeated and pushed across the border into Zaire. In Bunia, the remnants of the UMLA met up with Sudanese intelligence officers, who were using the airstrip there to ferry supplies to the LRA and the ex-FAR. They fused with the ADM to create the Allied Democratic Front, and joined forces with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda, which had its base among the Konjo community of the Ruwenzori mountains. Voila: ADF-NALU was born. It now has the honor of being on the US Terrorist Exclusion List.

Motive for the attacks?

So what would the motive be behind these attacks? The ADF have been relatively dormant - just a few years back they were estimated to be under 1,000 soldiers, mostly Congolese and with tight links to Mbusa Nyamwisi's former rebellion. According to humanitarian sources around Beni, they have been fairly quiet over the past few years, although they have ambushed several aid convoys in the region and stolen supplies. They appeared largely to be reduced to smuggling gold and cutting timber in the Erengeti area on the border between North Kivu and Ituri.

Now, all of a sudden, intelligence reports from both Uganda and MONUC indicate that they had been gearing up for an attack.

It is possible that Museveni had been tipped off, as Mwenda suggests, and encouraged Kabila to launch an offensive against them. For whatever reason, on June 25, the Congolese army launched Operation Ruwenzori, sending in several thousand troops to attack the ADF-NALU, displacing 60,000 people. According to MONUC sources, the ADF were much better equipped than the Congolese army expected and they have taken heavy losses in their initial battles.

Was it perhaps in reaction to that offensive that the ADF carried out the bombings in conjunction with Al-Shabab?

Whatever it was, I am sure people in Langley have been calling around to find out who exactly these guys are.

Congo, welcome to the land of international terror.

--- Jason Stearns blogs at Congo Siasa.

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