Uganda: trial of World Cup bombers sheds light on East Africa’s terror matrix – By Raymond Mujuni
Kampala – When they came back to the High Court on the morning of 31st March, the 11 terror suspects accused of planning the 2010 Kampala bombings in Kabalagala and Kyadondo were ushered into the building through tight security. Their bus was surrounded by gun-toting soldiers with rounds of bullets wrapped around their necks. Policemen, clad in black, kept close watch on them as others routinely checked those who had turned up at court to watch proceedings.
But one person was not coming to the trial that morning. This person was Joan Kagezi, a principal prosecutor in the case, who had been shot three times the previous day by yet-to-be-identified gunmen as she journeyed back home from a day at court.
Two theories have so far been advanced by investigators on what was the likely cause of her death. The first is her connection to the prosecution of the terror suspects that cast her into the limelight for potential execution by Al-Shabaab or its remnants. The theory has however continuously been weakened by the lack of any claim of responsibility by the terror group for her murder, a practice they have previously always carried out.
The second theory, advanced by the lead investigator Police Chief General Kale Kayihura, is that Joan Kagezi was murdered by people who were under the command of the Allied Democratic Front leader Jamil Mukulu. Kagezi was a primary prosecutor in the cases involving the murder of two muslim clerics – Sheikh Abdu Muwaya and Sheikh Mustapha Bahiga – which police believe were carried out on the orders of Mukulu.
What makes the second theory stronger has been the manner in which the murders of the sheikhs and that of Kagezi were carried out; pointblank range shooting done by men on a motorcycle after trailing a subject of interest. The scientific evidence adduced by the investigations team in the ballistics report says the bullet cartridges are similar in serial numbers to those that were used in the murder of the two sheikhs.
The evening of her death, Kagezi would ordinarily have been preparing to cross-examine the case’s key witness, Issa Luyima, who was due in court the next day. Luyima, formerly a suspect, had volunteered to testify against the 11 suspects in what he believed would be a “˜case-changing’ testimony. Within the criminal files that had been made available to Kagezi was the corroboration of a string of phone calls made between the suspected terrorists in the weeks before the July 11th attack was carried out.
“The biggest piece of evidence available for the case is a phone recovered from the scene of the bombings,” noted Police Chief Kale Kayihura. “This phone helped us track down all the people that had been involved in the bombings both from Kenya and Somalia”.
The phone in question was recovered by investigators from a suicide vest that failed to explode and was meant to be triggered by Luyima. The phone revealed that calls had been made to Somalia and Kenya to aid the transportation of the explosives.
The prosecution, which was to be led by Kagezi, was to advance information that would place Omar Awadh Omar, one of the suspects, as the lead collaborator for the attacks. Omar, a Somali national, according to Ugandan security intelligence is an Al-Qaeda operative who funded much of the attack.
Luyima confesses that Omar channeled money to him that enabled him identify and book a safe house in Namasuba, a Kampala suburb, where the suicide vests were kept two nights before the attack was carried out.
According to Issa’s testimony, these suicide vests were transported by another suspect identified as Selemen Nyamandondo, a Tanzanian national, from Mombasa to Kampala through the Eastern border town of Mbale. It is on this account that the other two suspects – Idris Christopher Magondu and Hussein Hassan Agade – are incriminated for allegedly organizing a safe house in Mbale town in eastern Uganda, in which to store the explosives and suicide vests.
If the evidence is proved to be correct, it would indicate a well-woven network of Al-Shabaab collaborators who worked together to effect an attack that would take the lives of 79 Ugandans. It would also indicate, as many analysts have reiterated over the years, a failure by Ugandan security to detect an attack that had earlier been warned of by the American embassy and state collaborators.
Uganda knowingly walked into the War on Terror in 2007 when the Parliament approved the deployment of 4,400 soldiers within Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). At the time, AMISOM controlled only a few buildings in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The first batch of Ugandan soldiers to arrive was credited with securing compounds that allowed establishment of the African Union offices. It is from these offices that tactical command was administered and in the following months this same command would hunt out the bases held by Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Brigadier Peter Elwelu, now a division commander stationed in Uganda, recalls that soldiers under his command would crawl every morning into position to avoid sniper shots (a well-learned fighting technique of Al-Shabaab).
But the Ugandan population, whilst proud of its military’s involvement in Somalia, was not fully aware of the potential implications on domestic security that such an intervention could cause.
“There are of course tough decisions that come with fighting any war and the one on terror is not any different” Kale Kayihura, head of Uganda’s national police force, notes. “Al-Shabaab uses unconventional means of warfare and the onus on security to detect these is increased.”
Ugandan police learned hard lessons from July 11th 2010 and since then have sought to heighten surveillance in the country. In just 3 years alone, the budget for monitoring and vigilance has been increased by a billion shillings.
In the security budget sent to Parliament this year for approval, the security sector is again asking for an increase in the budget for surveillance to help “˜neutralise threats to national security’.
Kayihura, again, brags that “investment into security infrastructure, like the one [sic] Uganda is making, has helped us to easily detect and act fast on threats to national security. Many of these terror alerts, we have acted quickly and stopped the culprits in their steps.”
Since intervening in the conflict in Somalia, Uganda has received a combined total of 26 terror alerts from foreign embassies and has failed to stop only one (the 2010 bombings) – despite being informed four days before the attack.
The situation in Uganda stands in contrast to the country’s neighbour Kenya which, despite going into Somalia 5 years after Uganda with 1000 soldiers fewer, has suffered frequent attacks – including the high-profile massacres at Garissa University in April 2015 (147 killed) and the Westgate shopping Centre in September 2013 (67 killed).
Kenyan security has been largely ineffective in the face of continued and sustained attacks on their soil by Al-Shabaab recruits, some of whom come from within Kenya itself. Radicalised Kenyans are able to easily cross over the porous Kenya-Somalia border to train in Somalia. In 2014, Transparency International ranked Kenya’s police as the most corrupt institution of the state and also among the region’s ten most corrupt institutions; a statistic that goes some way to explaining the ineffectiveness of the institution.
In contrast to Kenya, Uganda maintains a relatively effective security system along its borders with its security services continuing to request increased funding. There is also a well-developed culture of intelligence sharing stratified into incidences of security significance and intelligence highlights. Reports usually carry details of every gun crime that happen on a weekly basis and any political tensions in the country are acted upon by regional security bodies. It is this system that has been the most difficult block for Al-Shabaab to break through.
Raymond Mujuni is a Ugandan freelance journalist.