How security loopholes allow terrorist cells to thrive in Uganda

By JULIUS BARIGABA

Ugandan police failed to stop three terrorist attacks in 24 days – including the two explosions that killed four people in Kampala on November 16 – but took action, killing seven people and arresting 106 suspects linked to the explosions.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said counterterrorism agencies thwarted around 150 terrorist attacks on Uganda, but warned terrorists were not easy to uproot due to their inclination ideology for religion and the active recruitment of Ugandans, including children and women, into its ranks.

In a televised address on November 20, President Yoweri Museveni confirmed the same and defended the murder of the suspects, including Muslim cleric Sheikh Muhamad Kirevu, who he said was part of a terrorist network that ran a series attacks in Uganda since June 1. assassination attempt against the Minister of Public Works and Transport, General Katumba Wamala.

“I have heard people say that Kirevu was a good man… I am a reader of intelligence notes. Let the public wait for the courts, ”said Museveni, justifying the murder of the cleric and other suspects.

Mr. Enanga said East Africa that the police had wiped out all terrorist cells in Nabweru, Lweza and Mpererwe, all located in the metropolitan region of Kampala, as well as those located in the interior of the country in Luwero, Bundibugyo, Ntoroko and Kanungu.

But unease persists over the murder of suspects and the speed with which security organs have responded and eliminated the so-called sleeper cells that were allowed to assemble bombs and carry out attacks, with ease.

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In addition, the non-involvement of the United States in counterterrorism efforts to stop the attacks orchestrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) raises questions, said Charles Rwomushana, a former member. of the Internal Security Organization.

Mr Rwomushana argues that the choice of the location of the explosions of November 16 – on less traveled roads and not near the embassies of world powers like the United States, the United Kingdom or France – is not consistent with that of a suicide bomber, a terrorist group or ISIS. whose main characteristic is to seek to assert itself.

Last month, the UK and France issued a terrorist alert against Uganda, whose threat level Ugandan police downplayed, until the attack occurred on October 24, killing one person and injuring several others in a restaurant northeast of Kampala.

A second explosion occurred 48 hours later, in a bus that had just left the capital; Three weeks later, police admitted the problem was more serious than previously thought, after terrorists carried out deadly double explosions outside the central police station and Parliament Avenue.

Evaluation

The United States has been Uganda’s long-standing counterterrorism partner, but throughout these attacks it has not raised terrorist antennas to alert the Ugandan government, but only issued security alerts. after the explosions, for the benefit of its citizens in Kampala or any other person intending to go there.

In its latest assessment of the terrorist threat to Uganda, the US State Department’s Counterterrorism Office noted that there have been no attacks since 2019, but raised the focus on activities Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in eastern Congo, from where the group could expand attacks into Uganda.

“In April, ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks in eastern DR Congo carried out by the ADF, a historically anti-Kampala armed group based in that region. This was ISIS’s first claim of an attack in the region and highlighted the continuing threat of terrorism in Uganda, ”the Bureau noted in 2019.

Nonetheless, the Bureau has not released any further terrorist threat assessment, leaving the UK and France to assume this role.

After the 2010 twin bombs claimed by al-Shabaab, which killed 79 people in Kampala during the screening of the World Cup final, the US Federal Bureau of Instigations and Ugandan security agencies began to collaborate on terrorist alerts, information sharing, training and investigations. .

The US Embassy in Kampala said, “We need DC’s approval before we respond, but in the meantime, let me direct you to the US Embassy Security Alerts at Kampala issued on October 26 and November 16, 2021, as well as the United States. “

But other commentators argue that the diminished role of the United States stems from significant pressure from Trump and the subsequent Biden administration to withdraw Museveni from the usual military aid from Washington DC, which the regime then uses to terrorize. unarmed citizens.

Referring to the 54 people killed by Uganda security in November 2020 at the height of the presidential election campaign, which sparked arguments to rethink US military assistance to Uganda, some Americans say Washington has already acted .

The group behind the attacks is the ADF, a Ugandan rebel force of Salafist-jihadist elements; it emerged in the 1990s backed by radical elements in Sudan to carry out terrorist attacks inside Uganda, but maintained bases in eastern Congo.

In March 2021, the US State Department designated the ADF as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – Democratic Republic of the Congo, but ISIS itself did not refer to the ADF as a unit of the province. in Central Africa than in April, according to the Center for Strategic International. Studies.

Over the years, the ADF has maintained sleeper cells in Uganda which it uses to strike targets inside the country, with improvised explosive devices and firearms – the latter targeting high-level individuals, the latest being General Katumba Wamala.

Security Minister Jim Muhwezi said the ADF has succeeded in “radicalizing our young people through persuasion or coercion” to carry out attacks.

According to Mr. Enanga, the ADF are motivated to continue the attacks to establish an IS caliphate in Uganda, revenge for their colleagues killed in Operation Gen Katumba, but also, that they are sponsored by an unidentified foreign country. to cause economic sabotage. .


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