Somali Group Says It Carried Out Uganda Attacks
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
We're going to Africa now to follow up on Sunday's deadly attacks in Uganda. The militant group known as al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the two bombings that killed more than 75 people who were watching the World Cup Final. Al-Shabab is based in Somalia. They're believed to have links to al-Qaida, but this marks the first time they've struck outside Somalia.
Joining us now to talk about the attack and its implications is the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier.
JERRY LANIER: Good morning.
LOUISE KELLY: Let me start, Mr. Ambassador, by asking: Why would Somali militants choose to attack Uganda? I mean we should point out, these two countries do not share a border. They're hundreds of miles apart.
LANIER: That's correct. I think the primary motivation for the attack would be Uganda's leadership in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. The Ugandans have about 3,200 troops in Somalia and are the - have formed the primary impediment to al-Shabab actually taking over that country.
LOUISE KELLY: I understand Uganda is also, I mean, obviously a close ally of the U.S. and that there is some training for soldiers for Somalia's transitional government taking place in Uganda.
LANIER: Uganda is a very close friend and ally of the United States and we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Uganda in the fight against terrorism - not only in Somalia but also in their fight against the (unintelligible) resistance army here in Uganda. We have assisted the Ugandans with some training and with logistic support, particularly in their efforts in Somalia.
LOUISE KELLY: Well, is the U.S. helping with the investigation into these twin attacks?
LANIER: We are helping with the investigation. However, the scope and scale of our assistance is not yet determined. Right now we have a three-person FBI team on the ground in Kampala collecting evidence, and we're expecting a couple of more from the Department of State's security office to be out here as well, and possibly more after that.
LOUISE KELLY: Ambassador Lanier, we mentioned that these were two simultaneous attacks - that is a signature of al-Qaida. But what is your understanding of how sophisticated an operation this was?
LANIER: Well, it's hard to tell at the moment. The investigation is still ongoing, but it appears to have been perhaps suicide bombers and the attacks came very close in time. So we haven't completed the investigation - that might take some time - but it appears to be an attack that could've been organized in a very short period of time, assuming the persons were already in place to carry it out.
LOUISE KELLY: I mean, Uganda is not a country that one thinks of when one thinks of terrorist groups along the lines of al-Qaida. Has there been any al-Qaida presence there up to now, or al-Shabab presence up to now?
LANIER: Well, there is a substantial Somali community in Uganda, and we have had reports in the past of al-Qaida people passing through the country and of violent extremists also passing through the country. So we always knew there was some kind of risk here, as there is anywhere, from this kind of attack.
LOUISE KELLY: How worried are you, following this attack for what this could mean for this whole region in Africa? I mean, Somalia now apparently capable of exporting some of its chaos to a neighboring country.
LANIER: Well, this is quite disturbing, but I think it's also been like a fire bell in the night to this part of Africa as well, alerting many countries to the threat that is out there and to the potential for the export of that threat to other peaceful countries.
LOUISE KELLY: I know that one American was killed in this attack - several others were wounded. Is there any evidence that Americans were being targeted in this attack?
LANIER: So far I have seen no evidence that Americans were being targeted in this attack. Our sympathy goes out to the family of the American who was killed to those who were wounded. I just want the American people to know, however, that our (unintelligible) here has as its first responsibility the protection and assistance of American citizens. And our people have been working almost without sleep since the time of the attack. So we think now that we've accounted for everyone. The injured Americans have been medically evacuated as well.
LOUISE KELLY: Ambassador Lanier, thanks very much.
LANIER: Thank you very much, Ms. Kelly.
LOUISE KELLY: We've been talking to the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier. He spoke to us from the capital, Kampala.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.