Kampala (Reuters) – A triple suicide bombing killed three people in the heart of Uganda’s capital on Tuesday, sending lawmakers and others rushing for cover as cars burst into flames, the latest in a wave of bomb attacks.
The blasts in Kampala shocked a nation known as a bulwark against violent Islamist militants in East Africa, and whose leader has spent years cultivating Western security support.
At least 33 people were being treated in hospital, including five in critical condition, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said.
The death toll including the three bombers was six, Enanga said, including policemen. A diplomat told Reuters two police were killed.
There was no claim of responsibility, but police said intelligence indicated the Islamic State-aligned Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) were responsible.
“Our intelligence…indicates that these are domestic terror groups that are linked to ADF,” Enanga said.
The explosions three minutes apart – the first near the central police station and the second very close to parliament – sent bloodied office workers rushing for cover over shards of broken glass as a plume of white smoke rose above downtown.
A suicide bomber wearing a backpack detonated near the checkpoint at the police station, killing two, Enanga said. The second attack, involving two suicide bombers on motorbikes, killed one person.
“A booming sound like that from a big gun went off. The ground shook, my ears nearly went deaf,” said Peter Olupot, a 28-year-old bank guard close to parliament.
“I saw a vehicle on fire and everyone was running and panicking. I saw a boda boda (motorcycle) man – his head was smashed.”
Anti-terrorism police caught another potential suicide bomber and found a device at his home, Enanga said.
The al Qaeda-linked Somali insurgent group al Shabaab has previously carried out deadly attacks in Uganda, including a 2010 attack that killed 70.
Ugandan soldiers are fighting al Shabaab in Somalia as part of an U.N.-backed African Union peacekeeping force. An al Shabab spokesman was not available for comment. The group usually quickly claims attacks.
The ADF is a separate group, founded by Ugandan Muslims but now based in the forested mountains of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where it has been blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.
Last month, Islamic State claimed its first blast in Uganda – an attack on a police station in Kampala which killed no one.
Days later, it later said a “security detachment” in “Central Africa Province” bombed a restaurant. Police said the device killed a waitress and wounded three others, and linked it to the ADF, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
Also last month, Ugandan police said a suicide bomber had blown up a bus, killing only himself. His affiliation was unclear.
Dino Mahtani of the think tank International Crisis Group said ADF’s focus had shifted from settling local scores and controlling local war economies.
“With the more recent affiliation of its main faction to ISIS (Islamic State), a number of foreigners from across East Africa with more globalist jihadist agendas have been arriving into its camps,” he said.
Laren Poole from the U.S.-based Bridgeway Foundation said the Uganda bombings and a recent attempt in Rwanda, which police announced on Oct. 1, appeared to be linked to a Ugandan bomb maker active in eastern Congo called Meddie Nkalubo, nicknamed “Punisher”.
The group begin training fighters to use suicide vests in March, he said, and since then have hatched increasingly sophisticated plots. Initial physical evidence linked Tuesday’s Kampala attack to the ADF, he said – probably an attempt to showcase its strength to attract volunteers.
Islamic State is heavily promoting actions in what it calls “Central Africa Province”, he said.