September 16, 2011
Proceedings have opened in the Kampala trial of over a dozen East African men suspected of involvement in the July 11, 2010 suicide bombings of crowds gathered in Kampala to watch the World Cup soccer championship (see Terrorism Focus, September 24, 2008; Terrorism Monitor Brief, July 15, 2010). Responsibility for the attacks, which killed 74 civilians and came to be known in Uganda as the “7/11 bombings,” were later claimed by al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahmud Raage, who described them as “a message to Uganda and Burundi” to withdraw their troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) (Shabelle Media Network, July 12, 2010; Daily Monitor [Kampala], July 13, 2010).
The trial began with the liberation of Kenyan human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi and four other men, bringing the total number of suspects on trial to 14 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 12; September 13). Kimathi, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, was detained along with his lawyer Mbugua Mureithi on September 15, 2010 when they visited Kampala to oppose the extradition of Kenyans to Uganda to face charges related to the 7/11 bombings. Mureithi was quickly freed and deported, but Kimathi was forced to spend a year in prison after being charged with murder and terrorism (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 12).
Omar Awadh Omar (left) and Al-Amin Kimathi
Two of the suspects pleaded guilty on September 12 to playing a role in the Kampala bombings. One of the two, Mohamoud Mugisha, told the court that he had participated in a conspiracy drawn up in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, revealing the growing regional scope of al-Shabaab (New Vision [Kampala], September 13).
Of the remaining suspects, the most prominent are Omar Awadh Omar (a.k.a. Abu Sahal), a Kenyan described as the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa and an important logistician for both that group and Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement, Hijar Seleman Nyamadondo, a Tanzanian deported from that country to face charges of being second-in-command of the Kampala plot, and Issa Luyima, a Ugandan arrested in Mombasa who is believed to have fought with al-Shabaab (New Vision [Kampala], September 12).
Despite the high local profile of the Kampala bombing trial, there are reports that the once heightened vigilance that followed the bombings has now declined to almost nothing (The Independent [Kampala], September 10). Uganda’s opposition has complained that the government is using terrorist alerts to suppress public assembly and foil attempts to demonstrate against the government. Many alerts have come at the same time as popular “walk-to-work” protests over economic conditions within Uganda. Uganda’s Director of Counter Terrorism, Abas Byakagaba, suggests that such complaints are the work of “cynical people” who “misinterpret us” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], September 9).
Kenyan Muslim groups such as the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims have appealed to the Nairobi government to bring the ten Kenyan 7/11 suspects back for trial in their homeland, citing a willingness expressed by the Ugandan government to allow the transfer (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 14). A September 11 rally of concerned Muslims in Nairobi called on the government to work for the release of Kenyans being detained in Uganda and the United States. National Human Rights Commission member Hassan Omar said at the rally that the Ugandan government had “indicated it is waiting for Kenya to claim her people.” Omar and three other Kenyan human rights activists were deported from Uganda in April after arriving in Kampala to seek the release of the Kenyan suspects (Nairobi Star, September 11).
Kenyans underwent a scare recently when reports emerged that security services had arrested 40 to 50 Ugandans at a guesthouse in Nairobi who were reportedly on their way to Afghanistan, possibly for involvement in terrorist activities according to local security services. However, after the men were deported to Uganda and taken to Kampala for questioning, it turned out that the suspected jihadis had actually been duped into making payments to a bogus recruiting firm claiming to place security guards for high-paying jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq (Daily Monitor, August 20; New Vision, August 18).