Emerging intelligence information indicates that Ugandan security was alerted by a South Africa-based informer to the presence of militants in the country planning to strike targets in Kampala. This happened months before Sunday’s synchronised bomb blasts at Lugogo and in Kabalagala that killed at least 74 people.
Sources told The Observer on Tuesday that an unnamed mother of a radicalised Somali young man living in South Africa, who did not want her son to get involved in terrorist attacks, told Ugandan security officers in October last year that militants were planning to bomb Kampala.
It appears that the security services did not properly coordinate and process this information to avert an attack, even after the Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Yoweri Museveni warned his top commanders of a possible attack around the same time.
In a memo dated October 26, 2009 to the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, the Chief of Military Intelligence, Brig. James Mugira and the police chief, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, Museveni instructed them to step up security vigilance at all military installations to prevent a possible attack by Al Shabaab, a militant Islamist group reportedly with links to Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.
Indeed, on Monday, a security source told us that Ugandan intelligence was aware of the presence of terrorists in the country but did not know who they were, where they were hiding, when they planned to strike and which places they were targeting.
Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye couldn’t comment on that particular information but simply said that the terror threat has been on since last year.
In fact, in December 2009, highly placed military sources told The Observer that the commander of the Ugandan peacekeeping contingent in Somalia, Maj. Gen. Nathan Mugisha, had advised the Commander of the Lands Forces, Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, to put the UPDF and other security agencies on “extra alert” as some Ugandan-trained militants could plan a terrorist attack in the country.
It was reported then that the UPDF was training Somali forces at Bihanga Military Training School in the western Uganda district of Ibanda. The UPDF, this paper would later learn, was shocked when it discovered that one of the Al Shabaab fighters killed in a skirmish with AU forces near Medina Hospital in Mogadishu was one of those trained by the Ugandan army at Bihanga.
Another Islamist fighter who was injured in the same fighting was also Uganda-trained, raising fear that the UPDF was unknowingly training fighters for Al Shabaab.
“AMISOM has discovered that one [of the Al Shabaab fighters] who died and one of the injured were trained by UPDF,” our source in Somalia said then. He added that this had confirmed fears that some of the Somalis trained in Uganda had turned their guns on the peace-keeping troops.
Fearing that the country may have been infiltrated by militants who are familiar with its geography and other features, military intelligence personnel have since Monday been combing the city and its suburbs for any possible terrorist cells.
The search for any possible terror cells became urgent when the Police Anti- Terrorism Unit (PATU) defused another bomb in Makindye that had been left in a bag inside a busy pub. Police says some people have been arrested, but couldn’t say whether they were held in connection with the Kyadondo, Kabalagala or Makindye incidents.
The bombs exploded at about 11pm during the match between Spain and The Netherlands in South Africa, at a popular Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala, and at Kyadondo Rugby Club in Lugogo where hundreds of people had assembled to watch the game. At least 76 people were killed and more than 70 injured.
Maj. Gen. Kayihura described as “multipurpose” the explosives used in the attacks.
The bombs, Police say, could either be planted or worn as a vest. Kayihura and the Director of PATU, Abbas Byakagaba said that the Makindye bomb was similar to the ones that exploded at Lugogo and in Kabalagala, meaning all were coordinated.
Coming after repeated warnings by Al-Shabaab who have since claimed responsibility, the July 11 attack has put to question the preparedness of those responsible for the safety of Ugandans.
Just last week, Sheik Muktar Robow, the Al- Shabaab commander, repeated his group’s earlier threat calling for terror attacks on Uganda and Burundi.
The group is unhappy with Uganda and Burundi’s peace-keeping mission in Somalia which they say is an invasion of an Islamic country by “infidels.” Uganda and Burundi are the only African peace-keeping countries in Somalia.
Kayihura says the attacks would have been prevented if the management of the rugby club and Ethiopian Village Restaurant had used metal detectors to check everybody who entered the venues.
The deputy Inspector General of Police, Assan Kasingye said the proprietors of the two places had inadequate security. “There wasn’t even a single guard at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant,” he said.
Kasingye noted that Police had played its role to alert the public of a possible terror attack and carried out sensitisation campaigns in public places. He said all district police commanders had been instructed to do the same in their respective areas.
“We did our part, we have been alerting the public to be on the lookout,” he said.
He however admitted that the campaign might have been inadequate.
“We need to do more. People need to be reminded [about the terror threats] all the time.”
In October last year, Police issued an alert in which it instructed proprietors of hotels, restaurants and entertainment places to take extra-precautionary security measures.
Kayihura on Tuesday announced that the Police and other security agencies will now be visiting social gatherings, public places like hotels, supermarkets, hospitals, stadiums, campaign rallies, markets and places of worship to ensure that they have adequate security arrangements. He hinted at the possibility of stopping some of the events organised without taking into consideration basic security measures such as security checks on entry.
Incidentally, Lugogo was a scene of an attempted bomb attack early this year when police removed suspected explosives that was thrown in one of the sewage paths opposite the rugby grounds. Kabalagala has also been targeted by bomb attackers before.