KAMPALA (Reuters) – Somali Islamists said yesterday they had carried out two bomb attacks in Uganda that killed 74 soccer fans watching the World Cup final on television.
The explosions in the closing moments of Sunday’s match ripped through a crowded restaurant and a rugby club in the capital Kampala.
Al Shabaab militants in anarchic Somalia had already threatened to attack Uganda for sending peacekeeping troops to prop up its fragile, Western-backed government.
In Mogadishu, the group threatened more attacks unless Uganda and Burundi withdrew their peacekeepers. “Al Shabaab was behind the two bomb blasts in Uganda,” spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters.
“We are sending a message to Uganda and Burundi: If they do not take out their AMISOM troops from Somalia, blasts will continue, and it will happen in Bujumbura too.”
Al Shabaab is fighting the Somali government and claims links with al Qaeda. “At one of the scenes, investigators identified a severed head of a Somali national, which we suspect could have been a suicide bomber,” said army spokesman Felix Kulayigye. “We suspect it’s al Shabaab because they’ve been promising this.”
Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura said some arrests had been made, but gave no details. He said police had begun reviewing security in public places.
Burundi, which also contributes troops to the peacekeeping mission, stepped up security, said an army spokesman in the capital, Bujumbura.
The dead included one American. President Barack Obama condemned what he called cowardly attacks, and the White House said the Federal Bureau of Investigation would help in the investigation.
One bomb targeted the Ethiopian Village restaurant, a popular night-spot that was heaving with soccer fans and is frequented by foreign visitors. The second attack struck the Lugogo Rugby Club, which was also showing the match.
Coordinated attacks have been a hallmark of al Qaeda and groups linked to Osama bin Laden’s militant network.
Among the dead were at least 60 Ugandans, an Irish woman, and 11 Ethiopians and Eritreans. Two had not been identified.
The US State Department said one American citizen was killed and five injured. The US charity Invisible Children said one of its members, Nate Henn from Wilmington, Delaware, had been killed in the rugby club blast.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni visited the rugby club.
“This shows you the criminality and terrorism that I have been talking about,” he said. “If you want to fight, go and look for soldiers, don’t bomb people watching football.”