- Associated Press - Monday, July 12, 2010

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — An al-Qaeda-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.

The blasts came two days after a commander with the Somali group, al-Shabab, called for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

Al-Shabab, whose ranks are swelled by militant veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, long has threatened to attack outside Somalia’s borders, but the bombings late Sunday are the first time the group has done so.

“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 said earlier that they suspected the Somali group was involved. One of the targets was an Ethiopian restaurant — the al-Shabab militants despise Ethiopian.

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.

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 married to 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 Mrs. 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. Mr. 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 in Washington. “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.

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