Somali Group Claims Credit For Uganda Bombing
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
To Uganda now, where at least 74 people are dead after a pair of attacks yesterday in the capital city Kampala. The bombings targeted civilians, several Americans among them, who had gathered at a rugby club and a restaurant to watch Sunday's World Cup final.
Earlier today, the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the bombings, which have shaken an otherwise peaceful city to its core. Joining us from Kampala is Sudarsan Raghavan, The Washington Post's Africa bureau chief. And perhaps you can begin by telling us about these two bombings, where they happened and what authorities know about how they happened.
SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN: The two bombings happened basically in central Kampala. One happened at the Ethiopian village restaurant, another at the Lugogo Rugby Club. Both places were frequented quite a bit by Ugandans. That's (unintelligible) Ethiopians, as well as many foreigners, including Americans. I visited one area of the Ethiopian village restaurant. It looked like a tornado had swept right through it. There was still broken glasses, dried blood stains everywhere. And it was just absolutely tragic.
SIEGEL: Now, al-Shabab is a militant group based in Somalia. What more do we know about them and why would they stage this kind of attack?
RAGHAVAN: Well, you know, threatening for quite some now to target Ugandans and Burindians. Both Ugandan and Burundian troops comprise the African Union peacekeeping forces that are bolstering the American-backed transitional government of Somalia, which the Shabab is trying to overthrow. And recently there's been, you know, mass amounts of fighting in Mogadishi and the Ugandans, in particular, have been shelling quite a bit the Shabab positions.
And last week alone, the Shabab's top leader declared in an audiotape message that the Shabab would seek revenge for, against the Ugandans and Burindians for, quote, "massacring Somali civilians." And it looks certainly like they, you know, they certainly carried it out today.
SIEGEL: You were in Somalia just recently reporting. And I gather in the view of al-Shabab, a group of people watching a soccer game is a reasonable target.
RAGHAVAN: That's absolutely correct. The Shabab over the past month has killed at least five Somalis for watching the World Cup on television. And they've also arrested scores. Basically they believed that playing soccer is considered a satanic act that's against Islam. Of course, you know, most Muslims would disagree with that. But they've really instilled fear not only into the ordinary Somali soccer-crazed fans, but also the Somalia national team who essentially has to practice under heavy police guard inside a base, inside a military base.
SIEGEL: Does this pair of attacks in Kampala, Uganda, does this represent the farthest from Somalia that al-Shabab has struck?
RAGHAVAN: That's correct. It is the first major attack by al-Shabab. And, you know, they have staged in recent months a few cross-border raids into Kenya. They've kidnapped some Somali refugees that they've targeted or they've fought a bit with Kenyan troops, but nothing on this scale to, you know, to basically have two twin bombings back to back to, you know, in Uganda. It was basically their first big attack.
SIEGEL: How unusual is violence of this sort for the city of Kampala and Uganda?
RAGHAVAN: It's incredibly rare. I mean, I was, you know, I was talking to one police commander and 25 years on this force and telling me that this attack was the worst he has ever seen. And so, you know, Uganda is generally very peaceful. You know, certainly it has its reputation, you know, in terms of crime, in terms of insecurity, it has a very good reputation as being one of the safest on the continent. So this came as a major surprise to most Ugandans - a shock, that is.
SIEGEL: Sudarsan Raghavan, thank you very much for talking with us today.
RAGHAVAN: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: Mr. Raghavan is The Washington Post's Africa bureau chief. He spoke to us from Kampala, Uganda.