An Islamic State group in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed more than 70 people, the group’s Amaq News Agency said on Thursday.
The bomb attack on the Hoima Registration Office turned an assassination attempt into a horror as crowds of people, panicked by the deafening noise, stampeded through the bloody streets until police opened fire. Women and children were among the wounded.
A government official told the Associated Press that authorities had found at least 17 unexploded bombs throughout the city. The explosion came the day after terror attacks in Somalia, drawing attention to the links between al-Shabab, an affiliate of the IS group, and Islamic State.
Africa now has a foothold in the caliphate. Ugandan officials vowed to track down the attackers and arrest those who provided them with tools to carry out the attack.
They also warned residents to refrain from spreading the Islamic State’s message online. But an Associated Press journalist confirmed that some of the messages were coming from the Facebook accounts of people who identified themselves as officials.
Local authorities declined to comment on these claims. The lack of coordination among the different nations in the regional coalition fighting the IS group has been a longtime concern for intelligence agencies. And at least one analyst saw little evidence on Thursday that the group had a foothold in Africa.
“One must not forget that the IS has a more powerful base in Syria and Iraq, and needs to spread its momentum there before branching out. The story is different in Uganda where a local affiliate provides a base and support from its centers in Libya,” said Michael Clarke, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London.
“While ISIS has had access to laptops and cellphones, it could not provide logistical support and terrorist hardware for the attack. It’s a terrible tragedy and something which I am sure the Ugandan government will try to investigate, but we must not forget the better machinery of counter-terrorism which many central African states already have,” Clarke said.
Officials believe the attackers were not from Africa, which makes the claim of responsibility even more significant, Clarke said. He agreed with experts who believe that the eastern and central African states could not be considered centers of extremist activity.
Analysts think local groups were providing logistical support, perhaps a central bombmaker, possibly setting off the explosives remotely using a burner phone, or were providing any money that might have been paid out.
This year’s assault on Somaliland is the second in six months.
The group took responsibility for an October attack in Hargeisa, the capital of Somalia’s breakaway republic of Somaliland. It described the attack, in which two bombs caused huge damage but no deaths, as a revenge attack for attempts by the Kenyan government to recapture an IS stronghold on the coast.
There have been numerous claims of responsibility in response to attacks by al-Shabab in Somalia.
According to the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, Somalia has gone through 11 incidents of major violence in 2018, ranking fifth in the world. An analysis of dozens of reports on the security situation in the country by the analysts found that “both attacks from al-Shabab and foreign fighters involved” in the 11 incidents.