Scores of football fans were killed as they watched the World Cup final on TV by two al-Qaida-linked suicide bombers in Uganda.
The extreme Somali group al-Shabab carried out the attacks that left at least 74 dead at a rugby club and restaurant in the capital Kampala.
They came two days after one of the group’s leaders called for attacks in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
The choice of two soft targets filled with civilians also raised concerns about the capabilities and motives of al-Shabab.
A spokesman for the group in Mogadishu said it was responsible for the bombings.
One of the targets was an Ethiopian restaurant – a nation despised by the al-Shabab militants.
A California-based aid group, meanwhile, said one of its American workers was among the dead. 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
A Ugandan government spokesman said it appeared two suicide bombers took part in the attacks, which left dozens wounded.
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 US 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.”
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.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni toured the blast sites today and said that the terrorists behind the bombings should fight soldiers, not “people who are just enjoying themselves.”
“We shall go for them wherever they are coming from,” Museveni said. “We will look for them and get them as we always do.”
Somalia’s president also condemned the blasts and described the attack as “barbaric.”
Al-Shabab, which wants to overthrow Somalia’s weak, UN-backed government, is known to have links with al-Qaida. Al-Shabab also counts militant veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts among its ranks. Their fighters also include young men recruited from the Somali communities in the United States.
Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a long-time enemy of al-Shabab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbour of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia between December 2006 and January 2009 to back Somalia’s fragile government against the Islamic insurgency.
In addition to Uganda’s troops in Mogadishu, Uganda also hosts Somali soldiers trained in US and European-backed programs.
Officials said the attacks will not affect the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19-27. Many African leaders are expected to attend.
They are not the first to hit East Africa. US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were the targets of deadly twin bombings by al-Qaida in 1998, killing 224 people including 12 Americans. An Israeli airliner and hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, were targeted by terrorists in 2002.
The United States worries that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground, particularly since Osama bin Laden has declared his support for Islamic radicals there.