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Successive bombings in Uganda killed more than 60 people and injured dozens late Sunday, turning joyful World Cup viewing events into horrific scenes of violence minutes before the tournament finished. It also raises security concerns ahead of the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19 to 27.
The terrorist group, Al Shabab, is believed to have ties to Al Qaeda and previously threatened Uganda for sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia, which does not have a functioning government. Al Shabab has never struck outside the lawless country.
Police in Kampala said three bombs – one of which blew up at an Ethiopian restaurant, and two which exploded at a rugby club, both located in the suburbs – could have been targeting foreigners, reports Uganda’s New Vision.
Witnesses [at the rugby club] said the two bombs exploded right in front of the giant screen relaying a live telecast from South Africa.
The night was soon after punctured with sirens on racing Police patrol trucks as the Police and counter-terrorism unit moved in.
The explosions took the victims by surprise as many were blown off their chairs and others died in their seats. Many others could have been killed and injured in the pandemonium that ensued.
Al Jazeera reported that local hospitals were overwhelmed by casualties, and that the bombings left many soccer fans in shock.
The Rev. Kathleen Kind, a pastor at Christ Community United Methodist Church in Selinsgrove, Pa., said members of the group were injured but declined to provide more information. "We are in touch with the persons involved and their families and holding everyone in our prayers," she said. Rev. Kind added that the group was scheduled to come home Tuesday.
Al Shabab militants claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Journal reports.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, Sheik Yusuf Sheikh Issa, an Al Shabab commander, told the Associated Press: "Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah's anger be upon those who are against us.” He would not confirm whether the group was behind the attacks.
In addition to threats that came just two days prior, Al Shabab threatened late last year to attack Uganda and Burundi – neighboring nations with large Somali communities where terrorists could potentially find a haven, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The Islamic group has also threatened jihad against Ethiopia and Kenya.
The key to any attack on foreign soil is the support of radicalized supporters in the Somali diaspora, who are able to get around, identify targets, and handle logistics.
"You have to do a lot of reconnaissance, you have to do indoctrination and recruitment," says [Paula Roque, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa]. "It's not an easy thing to pull off. But just because nothing is happening right now, doesn't mean that it can't happen in the future."
The Monitor warned last year of a backlash against the Somali community in Uganda:
The Ugandan military already knows the brutal power of Al Shabab. In mid-September two suicide bombers killed four Ugandan and 12 Burundian soldiers in revenge for the US killing of a senior Al Qaeda operative in the country.
If many of Kampala's residents are jittery, the atmosphere among the city's 10,000-strong Somali community is like a knife edge. And there are concerns that the vulnerable group could be targeted.