KAMPALA, Uganda – East Africa saw the emergence of a new international terrorist group, as Somalia’s most dangerous al-Qaida-linked militia claimed responsibility for the twin bombings in Uganda that killed 74 people during the World Cup.
The claim Monday by al-Shabab, whose fighters are trained by militant veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, resets the security equation in East Africa and has broader implications worldwide. The group in the past has recruited Somali-Americans to carry out suicide bombings in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab, an ultraconservative Islamic group that has drawn comparisons to Afghanistan’s Taliban, has long threatened to attack outside of Somalia’s borders.
“We warned Uganda not to deploy troops to Somalia; they ignored us,” said Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, al-Shabab’s spokesman. “We warned them to stop massacring our people, and they ignored that. The explosions in Kampala were only a minor message to them. … We will target them everywhere if Uganda does not withdraw from our land.”
Rage said a second country with peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu – Burundi – could soon face attacks.
The attacks outside Somalia represent a dangerous new step in al-Shabab’s increasingly militant path and raises questions about its future plans. The U.S. State Department has declared al-Shabab a terrorist organization. Other neighboring nations – Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, along with Burundi – may face attacks, analysts say.
Despite the threats, the army spokesman for Uganda – an overwhelmingly Christian nation – said the country would not withdraw.