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Uganda gripped by domestic terrorism as Islamic State claims two of four bombings in a month

Uganda is reeling in the wake of three bomb attacks within a week, and four in total this month (October 2021), as a spike in incidents of domestic terrorism grip the country. Three of the bombings caused casualties, claiming the lives of four civilians and injuring seven. The region’s Islamic State groups, namely IS Central Africa Province and local affiliate Islamist militant group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have claimed responsibility for two of the attacks, while the other two incidents remain unclaimed. 

On October 8th 2021, Islamic State militants detonated an IED at a police post in Kawempe, a neighbourhood of Uganda’s capital city Kampala. The attack caused no casualties but was the first act of domestic terrorism in Uganda to be claimed by the Islamic State. 

Two weeks later, on 23 October, three IS militants posing as customers planted an IED at a popular roadside restaurant in the same neighbourhood. The men detonated the device – an IED packed with nails and shrapnel – after they left the building, killing a 20-year old waitress and injuring three others. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram channel, and Ugandan police and president Yoweri Museveni deemed the incident a terrorist act. 48 suspects have since been detained by police in relation to the incident. 

Ugandan explosives experts secure the scene of an explosion on 23 October 2021 in the northern outskirts of Kampala, Uganda (Photo: Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters)

Just two days later, on 25 October 2021, an Islamic State suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest on a long-distance passenger bus near Kampala, killing himself and wounding three civilians. Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the bomber was “on the wanted list of members” of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). 

Ugandan police officers investigate at a crime scene following a bomblast last night in Kampala on October 24, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

The most recent bombing in the month’s spate of attacks took place on the 25 October, when two children were killed by an explosive device that looked like an exotic “jackfruit.” The bomb was given to the children while they were playing. The deadly explosion took place in Nakaseke district, 27 miles north of Kampala. The deceased were identified as a 14-year-old boy and second child with disabilities. 

Ugandan authorities are investigating the attacks and heightened security checks are being carried out at Kampala’s major transportation sites. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have been linked to the incidents, raising concerns that the group is moving operations into Uganda from its historical base in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In April 2019, ADF attacks began to be claimed by ISIL on social media and the group has presented itself as the regional IS branch – the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP). In March this year (2021), the United States officially linked the ADF to the Islamic State, though the UN has not confirmed the link.

A bus security officer checks luggage of a passenger at a bus terminal in Kampala, Uganda, on Oct. 26, 2021. (Photo: Xinhua)

The ADF is a Ugandan insurgent group established in the 1990s in opposition to president Museveni and loyal to military strongman and former president Idi Amin. After it’s defeat in Uganda in 2001, the group moved into northern Congo and has operated as an Islamist militant group primarily in the Kivu region of the DRC. The group is known for the brutal massacre of civilians in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri provinces, and has killed at least 739 civilians in the region since May 2021.

The three casualty-causing incidents of explosive weapon use that took place in Uganda in October 2021 are the only incident of explosive violence recorded by AOAV in the country this year. Since AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor began in 2011, eleven incidents of explosive violence have been recording, totalling 47 civilian casualties (13 killed and 34 injured) and three armed-actor casualties (1 killed, 2 injured).