Since the beginning of October, the Islamic State’s branch based in the DR Congo, which calls itself IS’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP) and is known locally as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has taken responsibility for three separate bombing attacks inside Uganda’s capital, Kampala. One other attack, another suicide bombing, is suspected of being perpetrated by the group.
The bombings follow one attempted assassination and one other suicide bombing plot perpetrated by the group inside Uganda this year, though this month’s bombings mark the first attacks claimed by the Islamic State inside the East African country.
Yesterday, the ADF conducted a near-simultaneous bombing attack inside Kampala, Uganda, utilizing three suicide bombers to target Kampala’s Central Police Station (CPS) and near its parliament building.
At around 10am local time, a suicide bomber detonated himself outside of the CPS building, killing at least 2 policemen and two civilians. Minutes later, two suicide bombers on motorcycles detonated themselves on Parliamentary Avenue near the Jubilee insurance center, killing at least one.
A fourth suicide bomber was reportedly shot dead by Ugandan security forces.
While there are five confirmed deaths so far, many others were wounded in the blasts. According to current estimates, at least 30 people have been hospitalized with injuries sustained from the explosions.
The Ugandan government has blamed the ADF for the suicide bombings. The Islamic State, for its part, has claimed the bombings saying that it deployed three suicide bombers. Identifying the three as Abdul Rahman al-Ugandi, Abu Shahid al-Ugandi, and Abu Sabr al-Ugandi, the jihadist group said the first two, who were on motorbikes, detonated near simultaneously near the Ugandan parliament building. While the third, according to the Islamic State, targeted the CPS shortly thereafter.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has confirmed that all three bombers were indeed native Ugandans.
The Islamic State has repeated news reports that more than 30 people have been killed and wounded in the blasts.
These bombings follow an Oct. 25 explosion killing one person when a bomb exploded inside a bus just outside of Kampala. However, Ugandan officials, including President Yoweri Museveni, have stated the dead passenger was the bomber and that he was already wanted for his involvement with the ADF.
Ugandan police have labeled the bus blast as a suicide bombing and have blamed the ADF for the attack. As of the time of publishing, the Islamic State has not yet commented on that explosion.
That said, on Oct. 24 the Islamic State reported that “a security detachment” from its Central Africa Province “detonated an improvised explosive device [IED] on a group of spies and members of the Crusader Ugandan government” at a pub in Kampala.
In doing so, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the previous day’s nail bombing at a restaurant in Kampala’s Komamboga neighborhood, which left one person dead and several others injured.
According to Ugandan officials, three members of the jihadist cell entered the restaurant as patrons before leaving the explosives in a plastic bag under their table as they left.
This bombing followed a smaller incident earlier in October. On Oct. 7, an explosion occurred at a Ugandan police base in Kampala’s Kawempe neighborhood, though the blast was not reported by Ugandan authorities at the time.
A day later, the Islamic State said its men targeted a “Crusader Ugandan police station with an IED.”
It was not until the Oct. 23 bombing that Ugandan officials finally confirmed that a bombing had indeed occurred on Oct. 7. Ugandan authorities referred to October’s earlier bombing as a “minor incident.”
While October’s bombings represent the Islamic State’s first ever claimed attacks inside Uganda, they are not the only plots inside the country perpetrated by its local wing this year.
Earlier attacks pinned on the ADF in Uganda this year
On June 1, General Katumba Wamala, Uganda’s Minister of Works and Transport and former chief of defense forces, survived an assassination attempt when gunmen on motorcycles fired at his vehicle in Kampala. His driver and daughter were killed in the shooting.
Ugandan authorities have blamed the ADF for this incident, adding that the gunmen trained for the plot inside the group’s camps in eastern DRC.
Then on Aug. 27, Ugandan officials reported that security forces thwarted a suicide bombing plot targeting the funeral of Paul Lokech, a Ugandan general who played a prominent role in the defense of Mogadishu as part of the African Union’s Mission in Somalia in 2011, as well as previous operations in eastern Congo against the ADF.
According to local authorities, a member of the suicide bombing cell was arrested in the northern Ugandan town of Pader during a security raid with “a home-made bomb, suicide vests, detonators, ammonium sulphate, switches and mobile phones.” The cell was reportedly attempting to detonate a suicide vest during the funeral of Gen. Lokech.
However, the authorities added that one other suspect of the cell fled during the raid. That suspect was later shot dead by Ugandan security forces in Kyebando, a suburb of Kampala, on Oct. 5.
Uganda has pinned responsibility of the planned suicide bombing on the ADF. The Islamic State, however, has not commented on this plot.
If confirmed, the August plot would mark the group’s first ever attempted suicide bombing inside Uganda. The ADF perpetrated its first ever suicide bombing overall, which targeted civilians in Beni, DRC, earlier this year.
Historical ADF attacks inside Uganda
While the ADF has long been based in eastern DRC and now largely focuses its operations against Congolese forces and civilians, its leadership remains primarily Ugandan. Uganda thus continues to remain a key focus for the group’s leadership.
Beyond cross-border raids in western Uganda, the ADF was also blamed in the late 1990s for a series of bombings and attacks in urban areas like Kampala and Jinja. These urban terrorist attacks left at least 62 people dead and another 262 wounded.
On Aug. 25, 1998, at least 28 people were killed when three busses leaving Kampala for various destinations were bombed. An even more sustained wave of attacks began in February 1999 when two bars in the Kabalagala neighborhood of Kampala were also bombed, killing four and wounding three including foreigners.
These attacks were followed by 3 bombings in April 1999 and four bombings in May 1999 that left 11 dead and 42 wounded.
The ADF was then implicated in a series of assassinations in Uganda between 2011 and 2015, as masked men on motorcycles shot dead at least 14 prominent Muslim clerics, defected ADF commanders, and government prosecutors that purportedly appeared on a circulated hit list.
This followed a late 2010 fatwa issued by the ADF’s founding member and then-leader, Jamil Mukulu, calling for the deaths of the group’s prominent defectors.
The most recent incident blamed on the ADF prior to this year’s wave of attacks was the March 2017 assassination of Ugandan Police Force spokesman Andrew Kaweesi, which occurred during the same year of the ADF’s weakest point inside the DRC and the beginnings of its integration into the Islamic State.
And with an almost four year pause in the ADF’s attacks inside Uganda, it is clear that its urban attack cells have been reactivated (or rebuilt) within the country and are now carrying out operations in the name of the Islamic State.
Further, it is growing increasingly evident that as ISCAP grows in strength inside eastern DRC, it will not only continue to serve as a magnet for regional jihadist recruitment, but may serve as a regional hub from which the Islamic State may seek to export its violence across East and Central Africa.
Such fears have been magnified by the recent announcement by Rwanda that it arrested 13 suspected members of the ADF who were purportedly plotting attacks inside its capital of Kigali. According to Rwandan officials, the 13 individuals were arrested with “bomb-making materials including explosives, wires, nails and phones.”
While the ADF has recruited a small number of Rwandans in the past, it has thus far never staged attacks inside the country.
Rwanda’s intervention in northern Mozambique, which has helped retake large swaths of territory from ISCAP’s Mozambican wing, has brought attention from both official Islamic State propaganda outlets and unofficial releases by Islamic State supporters.
It is possible that the ADF, as one wing of ISCAP, sought to stage attacks in Rwanda as revenge for Rwanda’s intervention against Cabo Delgado’s insurgency, the other wing of ISCAP, suggesting a previously unseen depth of regional integration between the Islamic State wings.
Time will tell, however, just how successful the Islamic State’s regional exportation strategy will be in East and Central Africa. For Uganda, at least, this process has already begun.
Both authors are senior analysts at the Bridgeway Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to ending and preventing mass atrocities.
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