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Group linked to al-Qaida claims responsibility for Uganda bombings

July 12, 2010

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- An al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group claimed responsibility Monday for twin bombings in Uganda that killed 74 people watching the World Cup final on TV, saying the militants would carry out attacks "against our enemy" wherever they are. It was the group's first international attack.

The claim by al-Shabab, whose militants are trained by militant veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, raises concerns about insecurity in East Africa and has broader implications for global security. Al-Shabab has in the past recruited Somali-Americans to carry out suicide bombings.

"We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are," said Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a militant spokesman in Mogadishu. "No one will deter us from performing our Islamic duty."

Ugandan officials had said earlier that they suspected the Somali group was involved. One of the targets was an Ethiopian restaurant -- a nation despised by the militants. The blasts came two days after an al-Shabab commander called for attacks in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

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The attacks on two soft targets filled with civilians raised concerns about the capabilities and motives of al-Shabab, which the U.S. State Department has declared a terrorist organization. Analysts said other countries such as Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia -- named directly by the militant group or because of their proximity to Somalia -- may also face new attacks.

A California-based aid group, meanwhile, said one of its American workers was among the dead. Police said Ethiopian, Indian and Congolese nationals were also among those killed and wounded, police said.

At least three of the wounded were in a church group from Pennsylvania who went to an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala early to get good seats for the game, said Lori Ssebulime, an American who married a Ugandan. Three Ugandans in the group were killed when a blast erupted. One of the wounded was 16-year-old American Emily Kerstetter.

"Emily was rolling around in a pool of blood screaming," said Ssebulime, who has helped bring in U.S. church groups since 2004. "Five minutes before it went off, Emily said she was going to cry so hard because she didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay the rest of the summer here."

Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday there were indications that two suicide bombers took part in the late Sunday attacks, which left dozens wounded. Opolot said the death toll also had risen to 74.

Blood and pieces of flesh littered the floor among overturned chairs at the scenes of the blasts, which went off as people watched the game between Spain and the Netherlands.

"We were enjoying ourselves when a very noisy blast took place," said Andrew Oketa, one of the hospitalized survivors. "I fell down and became unconscious. When I regained, I realized that I was in a hospital bed with a deep wound on my head."

The attacks appeared to represent a dangerous step forward by al-Shabab, analysts said, and could mean that other East African countries working to support the Somali government will face attacks.

"Al-Shabab has used suicide bombers in the past and shown no concern about civilian casualties in its attacks," said David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and a professor at George Washington University. "Some elements of al-Shabab have also prohibited the showing of television, including the World Cup, in Somalia."

At a wrap-up news briefing Monday in South Africa, FIFA President Sepp Blatter denounced the violence against fans watching the game.

"Can you link it to the World Cup? I don't know... Whatever happened, linked or not linked, it is something that we all should condemn," he said.

Florence Naiga, 32, a mother of three children, said her husband had gone to watch the final at the rugby club.

"He did not come back. I learnt about the bomb blasts in the morning. When I went to police they told me he was among the dead," she said.

Invisible Children, a San Diego, California-based aid group that helps child soldiers, identified the dead American as one of its workers, Nate Henn, who was killed on the rugby field. Henn, 25, was a native of Wilmington, Delaware.

"He sacrificed his comfort to live in the humble service of God and of a better world," the group said in a statement on its website.

The FBI has sent agents based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya to assist in the investigation and look into the circumstances of the death of the American citizen, a State Department official in Washington said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the probe.

International police agency Interpol said in a statement Monday that it is also dispatching a team to Uganda.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni toured the blast sites Monday and said that the terrorists behind the bombings should fight soldiers, not "people who are just enjoying themselves."

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