Bomb attack in Uganda kills 64 people

Somalian insurgents suspected of bombing Ugandan capital. Israel prepares for further attempts to break the Gaza blockade as Eiland report is released. North Korea maintains innocence as it meets with UN. US and Serbia join in calls for justice over Srebrenica massacre. Russia expresses concern over Iranian nuclear potential. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Jamie Munn
12 July 2010

Two synchronised bombs have seen at least 64 people killed in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in an attack that is suspected to have been carried out by the Somali militant Islamic group, al-Shabaab, which has links with al-Qaeda. Ugandan police are still considering other options, as it would be al-Shabaab’s first attack outside of Somalia. Al-Shabaab has, however, threatened to attack Uganda because of their involvement in the African Union’s peacekeeping forces in Somalia. Over 5,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi are based in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to help protect the fragile government there, and they are frequently involved in fighting with Islamist insurgents who control vast swaths of central and southern Somalia.

Felix Klayigye, a Ugandan army spokesperson said that a severed head of a Somali national, who is suspected to be a suicide bomber, had been found by investigators and that al Shabaab has “been promising this for [a] long [time].” Whilst there has been, as yet, no official claims of responsibility for the atrocity, Sheikh Yusuf Isse, an al-Shabaab commander in Mogadishu, said: “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.” He added, in a statement to the Associated Press news agency that “Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah's anger be upon those who are against us.”

The bombs were targeted at groups of football fans, who had gathered in an Ethiopian themed bar and a rugby club to watch the World Cup final on Sunday evening. Inspector General Kale Kayihura warned people to stay away from large crowds over the coming days. As well as the 64 killed, many of whom were foreign nationals including ten Ethiopians and Eritreans, one Indian and one American (reported to be an aid worker from California), over seventy people were injured. US President Barack Obama has called the attacks “deplorable” and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton vowed to help Uganda hunt down those responsible. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni condemned the loss of civilian life.

Al-Shabaab (The Youth) wants to impose a strict version of Sharia law in Somalia, and carry out acts of punishment such as limb amputation and death by stoning. Al-Shabaab is one of many insurgent groups claiming control over the troubled country.

The openSecurity verdict: The World Cup was seen as an event of renaissance for the whole of Africa, not just the host nation – South Africa. It is tragic that such an atrocity should happen be orchestrated to occur during the final of an otherwise unblemished tournament.

Al-Shabaab has emerged in Somalia as the ‘leading insurgent group’ against the fledgling western backed government in Mogadishu. They have long criticised Uganda for its involvement in the peacekeeping forces sent by the African Union to protect this government, and the coordinated attacks carry echoes of al-Qaeda’s bombings of African embassies in 1998 and in Mombassa four years later.

Somalia’s continued instability acts as a breeding ground for such extremists, who can recruit from a large pool of disenchanted people in a country with few economic opportunities. Against the background of decades of civil war, an inadequate peacekeeper force and faction-ridden government seem unlikely to stem the rise of such groups.

If al-Shabaab has indeed carried out this attack, then it would be its first outside of Somalia. The expanding horizons of local Islamist forces has been witnessed not only there, but in the Maghreb, and, of course, Afghanistan. The spread of militant Islamism from Somalia, as indicated by developments in Kenya, clearly poses a threat to wider East Africa. The question is how best to deal with it, when military intervention, it is feared, may only hasten the spread of violence.

Libyan ship adamant on reaching Gaza

The Moldovan-flagged Amalthea (‘Hope’) – a ship carrying aid supplies – will dock in el-Arish in Egypt, following Israeli warnings not to break to Gaza blockade. The ship, charted by a charity run by the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, left Greece on Saturday. Israel announced that, following talks with Greece and Moldova, that the ship will stop in Egypt and not continue to Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the disputed territory. The Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, who sent the ship, have said, however, that they will continue to Gaza, and in a statement to the BBC Arabic service, the director of the charity, Youssef Sawwan said “we have not cut deals with anyone”.

The pressure from Israel comes after the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) raided a ship bound for Gaza in June, resulting in the deaths on nine Turkish activists. A military investigation into the raid is also released today, and is expected to be extremely critical of the IDF and the tactics that it used. Non-classified part of the 150-page report, led by Gloria Eiland, will be made public later, but individuals are not expected to be singled out for criticism. The Eiland report covers only the military and intelligence aspects of the incident and the main inquiry, the Turkel Commission, set up by the Israeli government, is not expected to reach any conclusions for months.

North Korea meets with UN over Cheonan sinking

Officials from North Korea will meet with a US led United Nations command for talks regarding the sinking of a South Korean warship on Tuesday in the truce village of Panmunjom. The UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, as well as Japan and South Korea), has already released a report that condemned the sinking, but has yet to place any blame specifically with North Korea. Investigators came to the conclusion that a North Korean missile hit the warship, the Cheonan, which sank on 26 March with the loss of 46 lives. South Korea had wanted the Security Council to respond, “in a manner appropriate to the gravity of North Korea's military provocation”, but China, North Korea’s most significant ally, vetoed further sanctions or condemnation that targeted North Korea.

North Korean UN ambassador, Sin Son Ho, wrote to the UN on 29 June asking for official talks between the two Koreas, and requested that the North’s own investigation team be allowed to visit the site of the Cheonan. South Korea’s UN ambassador, Park In-kook, replied by saying that the attack broke the 1953 truce that ended the Korean war, and should be discussed by the UN command’s military armistice commission. North Korea maintains that it had nothing to do with the ship’s sinking and that Seoul fabricated the event for political gain.

The meeting marks a change in tact from Pyongyang, who had previously declined requests to hold such meetings. It is hoped that the meeting, at ‘colonel-level’, will pave the way for more high-level talks between “general-grade officers”.

US and Serbian leaders call for Mladic to be brought to justice

US President Barack Obama, has admitted that the international community failed to protect the people of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, the scene of the 1995 atrocity that left thousands of Bosnian Muslims dead. The statement was read on his behalf as hundreds of bodies from the massacre were being buried in a ceremony on Sunday. He described what was the largest loss of life in Europe since the Second World War as a “stain on our collective conscience.” The speech went on to say that lasting peace would not be found without justice, and called for “the prosecution and arrest of those that carried out the genocide.”

After the massacre, the victims' bodies were thrown into mass graves. They were then removed and moved to smaller sites during cover up attempts. More than 3,700 victims have been identified and reburied in the special memorial graveyard after being unearthed from hundreds of mass graves.

Leaders from across Europe attended the ceremony, which saw 775 newly identified bodies buried. In what is seen as a significant gesture, Serbian President Boris Tadic was also there and vowed to hunt down the fugitive general, Ratko Mladic, who is believed to be hiding in Serbia, saying: “As the president of Serbia I will not give up the search for remaining culprits, and by this I first of all mean for Ratko Mladic.” Failures to arrest Mladic have hindered Serbia’s entry into the European Union. The UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague has indicted Mladic and his political chief, Radovan Karadzic, for genocide. Karadzic, who is currently on trial, denies all counts of the indictment, including the massacre in Srebrenica.

Russia claims Iran is ‘moving closer’ to being able to create nuclear weapons

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has released a statement on Monday detailing his belief that Iran is moving ever closer to creating nuclear weapons. Medvedev told a meeting of ambassadors in Moscow that: “Iran is moving closer to possessing the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of nuclear weapons.” It is one of the first times that Moscow has openly acknowledged that Iran may be working towards developing nuclear weapons.

The United States and European nations have suspected for a long time that Iran is in the midst of a programme for the development of nuclear weapons – a claim than Iran refutes. Tehran says that its nuclear programme is completely peaceful. Russia had built a strong partnership with Iran, both diplomatically and economically, but has taken a harder line in recent months – closer to that of Europe and the United States.

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