MOGADISHU, July 12, 2010
Somalia's Al-Qaeda-inspired Shabaab rebels claimed responsibility Monday for bombings in Kampala that killed 74 people as they watched the World Cup final, in the region's worst attacks in 12 years.
The twin attacks in the Ugandan capital dampened Africa's post World Cup euphoria, drew a barrage of global condemnation and marked an unprecedented internationalisation of Somalia's two-decade-old civil war.
"We are behind the attack because we are at war with them," Ali Mohamoud Rage, the Shabaab group's top spokesman told reporters in Mogadishu.
The movement's top leader had warned in an audio message earlier this month that Uganda would face retaliation for contributing to an African Union force supporting the western-backed Somali transitional government.
Explosions ripped through a sports bar and an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala where people had gathered to watch the football World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.
"The latest official count is 74 confirmed dead," Fred Opolot, a Ugandan government spokesman, told AFP.
Dozens of people were also wounded in the attacks that rattled Kampala days before it was due to host the African Union heads of state summit.
Opolot said police were trying to determine if suicide bombers carried out the attacks.
"While there is evidence to suggest that there were suicide bombers, at the same time it is thought that the bombs were under some chairs," he told reporters.
They were the deadliest attacks in the region since 1998 bombings against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
A US embassy spokeswoman confirmed one American was among the dead and an AFP correspondent saw at least three wounded US citizens at the city's main Mulago hospital.
Suspicion immediately fell on the Shabaab, whose overall leader Mohamed Abdi Godane had warned in an audio message earlier this month that Uganda and Burundi would be targeted.
The two countries provide troops to the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which is fighting daily battles against the Shabaab in Mogadishu in a desperate effort to prop up the government.
The Shabaab accuse AMISOM of killing civilians during its operations around the tiny perimeter housing President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's embattled administration.
"We will continue the attacks if they continue to kill our people," Rage said. "This was a defensive measure against the Ugandans who came to our country and killed our people. This was retaliation for their actions."
The Ugandans were the first to deploy to Somalia in early 2007 and form the backbone of AMISOM, which is the last rampart preventing the Shabaab from claiming complete control of Mogadishu.
Ugandan officials insisted Monday that the July 19-27 African Union summit would go ahead as planned and that troops would not be withdrawn from Mogadishu.
The Kampala bombings were the deadliest in Shabaab's history and the first attacks they have perpetrated outside Somalia.
In Kampala, medics and officials were still trying to establish the nationalities of those killed in the bombings while friends and relatives separated by the blasts were looking for their loved ones in hospitals.
"We just wanted to watch the World Cup. Unfortunately we went to the Ethiopian Village," said Chris Sledge, an 18-year-old US national who suffered serious injuries to his legs and a bruised eye.
"I feel OK. I'm going to need surgery," he said.
France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner described the attacks as "barbaric" while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply shocked" by news of the blasts, adding they were "cowardly attacks during an event that was widely seen as a celebration of African unity."
US President Barack Obama "is deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks," US National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said.
The United States was in contact with its embassy in Kampala and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding Uganda's requests for assistance, a US official said.
Interpol said it was sending a team to Uganda.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni condemned the attack and vowed to pursue the culprits.
"People who are watching football are not people who should be targeted," Museveni said when he visited the Kampala Rugby Club bar, which along with an Ethiopian restaurant located some four kilometres (2.4 miles) away, were hit.
"We should go for them because they are very irresponsible, backward and cowardly," he added at the scene where some survivors said two blasts went off.