Photos on social media from downtown Kampala show gruesome scenes and destruction. On Tuesday, the capital of Uganda is likely to have become the target of terrorists once again. Local media reported two explosions near the central police station and the parliament in the morning when there was busy daily life.
Initially, there was talk of six fatalities, including three suicide bombers. At least 24 wounded were taken to hospitals, according to initial information from the Ministry of Health, and some were seriously injured. A reporter for the NTV Uganda television station said there was "complete confusion." Human remains could be seen on the streets, he said. Many people fled the city center on motorcycles.
It is the third attack in a few weeks in the East African country. On Oct. 23, an explosion had occurred at a busy cafe in Kampala. One person was killed and several people were injured. Two days later, there was another explosion on a bus about 30 kilometers west of the capital, where police said the suicide bomber was killed. Authorities believe that the two attacks were coordinated. The terrorist organization Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which is believed to be linked to the "Islamic State" (IS), had claimed responsibility for the attack on the café. At least 50 suspects have since been arrested.
The latest explosions could confirm fears that terrorist organizations are expanding their activities on the African continent. The U.S. Embassy had already warned of an increased risk of terrorism in Uganda after the October attacks. According to the report, foreigners do not appear to be the target of the attacks, but American citizens should still be vigilant. The Ugandan government had also warned of a possible "major attack." On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a trip to Africa that will last until Saturday, with visits to Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal.
The ADF organization, which was founded by Muslim rebels in Uganda in the early 1990s, has so far been active mainly in eastern Congo, where state institutions and security forces exercise little control. Thousands of people have died in attacks there over the decades, most of them unarmed civilians.
Security experts and the U.S. government suspect links to "Islamic State." There is also speculation about cooperation with al-Qaeda allies, particularly al-Shabab in Somalia. Uganda's government has been contributing troops to an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia since 2007 to help the government there fight Al Shabab. In revenge, Al Shabab militants had carried out several suicide attacks in Kampala in July 2010, killing 74 viewers of television broadcasts of the World Cup in South Africa. "We are sending a message with this to all countries that want to send troops to Somalia," a spokesman had said at the time. It was the first Al Shabab attack outside Somalia.
Despite its long existence, the ADF remains a rather obscure organization, notes Peter Fabricius of the Institute for Security Studies in a recent report. Many observers considered them a gang of warlords who plundered communities in Congo and raised the flag of IS as justification. The recent attacks could be a sign that it is now stepping up its strikes in Uganda and possibly Rwanda. Rwandan troops fight terrorists in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province.
Three more bombs were found in Kampala on Tuesday, according to the National Emergency Operations Center. Sniffer dogs were deployed. Sessions in Uganda's parliament were ended and members of parliament left the building. Several office buildings were also closed and the area sealed off. "While we all try to understand the cause of today's explosions in Kampala, we should all look out for each other and be extremely vigilant," opposition leader and musician Bobi Wine wrote on Twitter. "We should stand firm with each other at this difficult time."