Dino Mahtani: “Uganda is not the only country in the region targeted by the threat of attacks”

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Ugandan police officers secure the area surrounding Parliament after a bomb exploded on November 16, 2021, in Kampala.

Uganda has been hit in recent weeks by a series of terrorist attacks. The latest: on November 16, a double suicide bombing in Kampala, attributed by the police to the rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), killed four people.

Dino Mahtani, Deputy Director for Africa of the International Crisis Group (ICG) since 2019, is an expert on armed groups such as the ADF, a Ugandan-born rebellion that has been active in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic for twenty years. of neighboring Congo (DRC). While the IS designates the ADF as its “Province of central Africa” (Iscap, in English), the researcher believes that new attacks on a larger scale are to be expected.

Uganda has long been relatively spared from terrorist attacks. How do you explain that the country is again a target?

Attacks by the ADF have so far focused on their area of ​​influence, in eastern DRC. But the involvement of the Islamic State organization [en mars, les Etats-Unis ont officiellement déclaré les ADF affiliés à l’EI] and the arrival of foreign fighters may have changed the group’s strategy, with new regional objectives. Uganda is becoming a target especially for proximity issues. The porous borders allow members of the armed group to make regular trips back and forth between the two countries. It is not the only border state of the DRC to be targeted: the 1is October, Rwanda also announced that it had foiled an attack organized by a group linked to the ADF.

Read also Double bombing in Uganda: police say they shot five suspects and arrested 21 people

What do we know about ISIS’s presence in Uganda? And how is the terrorist group linked to the ADF cells?

The degree of ISIS involvement in Uganda is difficult to estimate and there is still a lot to understand about his relationship with the ADF. But their connection has been more visible for two years. Musa Seka Baluku, the commander of the largest ADF faction in the DRC, pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2019. Since then, his attacks have often been claimed by ISIS.

There are also possible financial transactions. Independent investigators and regional authorities detected that a cell potentially connected to ISIS and based in Kenya had sent funds to several individuals affiliated with ADF. This cell also transferred money to members of other armed groups in the region, in Uganda, Mozambique and Tanzania.

How connected are the attacks in Uganda with the ADF command, based in eastern DRC?

Security forces link several of the attacks in recent months to Meddie Nkalubo, an ADF leader in the DRC. Of Ugandan origin, he is known as the “Punisher”. According to the authorities, he is behind several plots, including the foiled attack attempt in August during the funeral of Paul Lokech, a senior Ugandan police officer. Meddie Nkalubo has different roles within the armed group: he’s one of the people responsible for communicating propaganda messages and instructional videos, but he’s also invested in drone management and explosives manufacturing.

Read also Uganda: double suicide bombing in Kampala claimed by ISIS

What do we know about the means available to these terrorist cells?

The bombs used by the ADF in Uganda caused damage of varying degrees. The October 23 attack on a restaurant in Kampala, which resulted in the death of one person, had limited impact. Just like the suicide bombing of October 25 in a bus, of which the author was the only victim. However, the more deadly attacks of November 16 show that the group has succeeded in rapidly developing its technologies. Presumed use suicide bombers also reflects the ADF’s ability to recruit and radicalize new members.

The latest attacks were carried out near the police headquarters and near the Parliament, sites of significant symbolic significance. Should we prepare for new and larger attacks?

This is what is to be feared. In the ADF camps based in the DRC, combatants Foreigners, along with many Tanzanians in recent years, are increasingly receiving instructions on how to make explosive devices, although they do not yet have the capabilities to carry out very significant bomb attacks, such as those that we have seen in the Middle East or in Europe. And with the new involvement of ISIS, Uganda is not the only country targeted by the threat of attacks: terrorist networks are present in many countries in the sub-region.

Read also In Uganda, ADF Islamists in the sights of the authorities

Is Uganda well equipped to respond to this threat?

The Ugandan authorities have experience in the fight against terrorism. First, there were the 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, carried out by Somali group the Chabab during the FIFA World Cup final and which killed more than 70 people. Since that date, the group linked to Al-Qaeda has very frequently attempted to carry out new attacks, which have been foiled by the police.

Authorities are working with Western partners on these issues, but one of the challenges remains cooperation between the different countries of the region, because these terrorist networks do not stop at the Ugandan borders. The other challenge will be the response to the threat: the arrests of suspects, if not targeted and carefully organized, can accentuate the feeling of discrimination of part of the Muslim community in the country, which represents 14% of the population. according to official estimates.

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Dino Mahtani: “Uganda is not the only country in the region targeted by the threat of attacks”