KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — An al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group suspected in twin bombings in Uganda’s capital that killed 64 people watching the World Cup final endorsed the attacks on Monday but stopped short of claiming responsibility, as Uganda’s president vowed to hunt down those responsible.
The blasts came two days after a commander with the Somali group, al-Shabab, called for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
The attacks also raise concerns about the capabilities of al-Shabab, which the U.S. State Department has declared a terrorist organization. If confirmed that the group carried out the attacks, it would be the first time al-Shabab has struck outside Somalia.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, Sheik Yusuf Sheik Issa, an al-Shabab commander, told The Associated Press early Monday that he was happy with the attacks in Uganda but refused to confirm or deny that al-Shabab was responsible.
“Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah’s anger be upon those who are against us,” Sheik said.
Kampala’s police chief, Kale Kaihura, said he believed al-Shabab could be responsible.
A California-based aid group, meanwhile, said one of its American workers was among the dead. Police said Ethiopian, Indian and Congolese nationals were also among those killed and wounded, police said.
Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday there were indications that two suicide bombers took part in the late Sunday attacks, which left nearly 60 others wounded.
Blood and pieces of flesh littered the floor among overturned chairs at the scenes of the blasts, which went off as people watched the game between Spain and the Netherlands. The attack on the rugby club, where crowds sat outside watching a large-screen TV, left 49 dead, police said. Fifteen others were killed in the restaurant explosion.
“We were enjoying ourselves when a very noisy blast took place,” said Andrew Oketa, one of the hospitalized survivors. “I fell down and became unconscious. When I regained, I realized that I was in a hospital bed with a deep wound on my head.”
Several Americans from a Pennsylvania church group were wounded in the restaurant attack including Kris Sledge, 18, of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He said from a hospital bed afterward that he was “just glad to be alive.”
Florence Naiga, 32, a mother of three children, said her husband had gone to watch the World Cup final at the rugby club.
“He did not come back. I learnt about the bomb blasts in the morning. When I went to police they told me he was among the dead,” she said.
Invisible Children, a San Diego, California-based aid group that helps child soldiers, identified the dead American as one of its workers, Nate Henn, who was killed on the rugby field. Henn, 25, was a native of Wilmington, Delaware.
“From traveling the United States without pay advocating for the freedom of abducted child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s war, to raising thousands of dollars to put war-affected Ugandan students in school, Nate lived a life that demanded explanation. He sacrificed his comfort to live in the humble service of God and of a better world, and his is a life to be emulated,” the group said in a statement on its website.
Kony heads the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has waged one of Africa’s longest and most brutal rebellions, in northern Uganda.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni toured the blast sites Monday and said that the terrorists behind the bombings should fight soldiers, not “people who are just enjoying themselves.”
“We shall go for them wherever they are coming from,” Museveni said. “We will look for them and get them as we always do.”
Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said it was too early to speculate about any military response to the attacks.
Somalia’s president condemned the blasts and described the attack as “barbaric.”
Al-Shabab, which wants to overthrow Somalia’s weak, U.N.-backed government, is known to have links with al-Qaida. Al-Shabab also counts militant veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts among its ranks.
Al-Shabab’s fighters, including two recruited from the Somali communities in the United States, have carried out multiple suicide bombings in Somalia.
Uganda’s government spokesman said the first blast occurred at the Ethiopian Village restaurant at 10:55 p.m. Two more blasts happened at the rugby field 20 minutes later, he said.
Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a longtime enemy of al-Shabab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbor of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia between December 2006 to January 2009 to back Somalia’s fragile government against the Islamic insurgency. Ethiopia later withdrew its troops under an intricate peace deal mediated by the United Nations.
In addition to Uganda’s troops in Mogadishu, Uganda also hosts Somali soldiers trained in U.S. and European-backed programs.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. was prepared to provide any necessary assistance to the Ugandan government.
President Barack Obama was “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks,” Vietor said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Obama in offering condolences and added, “The United States stands with Uganda. We have a long-standing, close friendship with the people and government of Uganda and will work with them to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”
Officials said the Sunday attacks will not affect the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19-27. Many African leaders are expected to attend.
“The summit will go on. The AU and African countries have the resolve to fight terrorism with the international community,” said Ramtane Lamamra, the AU’s peace and security commissioner.