Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels claimed responsibility Monday for bombings inÃ‚Â KampalaÃ‚Â that killed 74 people as they watched the World Cup final, in the region’s worst attacks in 12 years.
The twin attacks in the Ugandan capital dampenedÃ‚Â Africa’s post World Cup euphoria, drew a barrage of global condemnation and marked an unprecedented internationalisation of Somalia’s two-decade-old civil war.
“We are behind the attack because we are at war with them,” Ali Mohamoud Rage, the Shebab group’s top spokesman told reporters inMogadishu.
The movement’s top leader had warned in an audio message earlier this month thatÃ‚Â UgandaÃ‚Â would face retaliation for contributing to anAfrican Union forceÃ‚Â supporting the western-backedÃ‚Â SomaliÃ‚Â transitional government.
Explosions ripped through a sports bar and an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala where people had gathered to watchÃ‚Â the football World Cupfinal between Spain andÃ‚Â the Netherlands.
“The latest official count is 74 confirmed dead,” Fred Opolot, a Ugandan government spokesman, told AFP.
Police Chief Kale Kayihura said one Irish woman was among the dead and added that two bodies had not been claimed by anybody and were “of interest” to the security services.
He explained that three blasts went off and that while one was a planted explosive device, the other two might have been the result of suicide explosions.
The blasts were the deadliest attacks in the region since 1998 bombings against the US embassies inÃ‚Â KenyaandÃ‚Â Tanzania.
A US embassy spokeswoman confirmed one American was among the dead and an AFP correspondent saw at least three wounded US citizens at the city’s mainÃ‚Â Mulago hospital.
Suspicion immediately fell on the Shebab, whose overall leader Mohamed Abdi Godane had warned in an audio message earlier this month that Uganda andÃ‚Â BurundiÃ‚Â would be targeted.
The two countries provide troops toÃ‚Â the African Union missionÃ‚Â in Somalia (AMISOM) which is fighting daily battles against the Shebab in Mogadishu in a desperate effort to prop up the government.
The Shebab accuse AMISOM of killing civilians during its operations around the tiny perimeter housing President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s embattled administration.
“We will continue the attacks if they continue to kill our people,” Rage said. “This was a defensive measure against theÃ‚Â UgandansÃ‚Â who came to our country and killed our people. This was retaliation for their actions.”
The Ugandans were the first to deploy to Somalia in early 2007 and form the backbone of AMISOM, which is the last rampart preventing the Shebab from claiming complete control of Mogadishu.
UgandanÃ‚Â officials insisted Monday that the July 19-27Ã‚Â African Union summitÃ‚Â would go ahead as planned and that troops would not be withdrawn from Mogadishu.
TheÃ‚Â KampalaÃ‚Â bombings were the deadliest in Shebab’s history and the first attacks they have perpetrated outside Somalia.
In Kampala, medics and officials were still trying to establish the nationalities of those killed in the bombings while friends and relatives separated by the blasts were looking for their loved ones in hospitals.
“We just wanted to watch the World Cup. Unfortunately we went to the Ethiopian Village,” said Chris Sledge, an 18-year-old US national who suffered serious injuries to his legs and a bruised eye.
“I feel OK. I’m going to need surgery,” he said.
A statement issued byÃ‚Â UN Secretary GeneralÃ‚Â Ban Ki-moon’s office “strongly condemns the vicious bombings… that claimed the lives of dozens of people and left hundreds wounded among Ugandans and other nationalities at establishments where they wereÃ‚Â watching the World Cup final.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “deeply shocked” by news of the blasts, adding they were “cowardly attacks during an event that was widely seen as a celebration of African unity.”
US PresidentÃ‚Â Barack ObamaÃ‚Â “is deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks,” USÃ‚Â National Security Council spokesmanÃ‚Â Mike Hammer said.
Obama called UgandanÃ‚Â President Yoweri MuseveniÃ‚Â and offered his country’s assistance while Interpol also announced it would send a team to Kampala.
MuseveniÃ‚Â condemned the attack and vowed to pursue the culprits.
“We should go for them because they are very irresponsible, backward and cowardly,” he added at the scene.
Kayihura told reporters that arrests had been made but did not provide details.