Two explosions rocked Uganda’s capital, Kampala, early on Tuesday, killing at least three civilians in what police described as a coordinated attack by extremists.
Three suicide bombers also died in the blasts, police said. The explosions caused chaos in Kampala as terrified residents fled the city’s centre.
“The bomb threats are still active, especially from suicide attackers,” said Fred Enanga, a police spokesperson, blaming the blasts on the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic extremist group.
The two explosions occurred within three minutes of each other. Both were carried out by attackers carrying explosives. A possible attack on a third target was foiled by police, who pursued and disarmed a suspected suicide bomber, Enanga said.
One blast was near a police station and the other on a street near the parliamentary building, according to police and witnesses. The explosion near parliament appeared to hit closer to a building housing an insurance company and the subsequent fire engulfed cars parked outside. Body parts were seen in the street, and later some lawmakers were seen evacuating the parliamentary building nearby.
At least 33 people were being treated at the city’s main public referral hospital, Enanga said. Five were critically injured, he said.
People rushed to leave the city in the aftermath of the attacks, many on passenger motorcycles, as police cordoned off wide areas near the blast scenes, footage posted on social media showed.
Ugandan officials have been urging vigilance in the wake of a string of bomb explosions in recent weeks. One person was killed and at least seven others wounded in an explosion at a restaurant in a suburb of Kampala on 23 October. Another explosion two days later on a passenger bus killed only the suicide bomber, according to police.
Even before those attacks, the UK government had updated its Uganda travel advisory to say extremists were “very likely to try to carry out attacks” in the east African country.
The Allied Democratic Forces, an affiliate of Islamic State in central Africa, claimed responsibility for the attack on the restaurant. Enanga said Tuesday’s attacks bore “the hallmarks” of the work of this group, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
At least 150 planned attacks had recently been defused, he said, describing a “domestic terror group” eager to carry out more attacks.
The Allied Democratic Forces has long been opposed to the rule of the longtime president Yoweri Museveni, a US security ally who was the first African leader to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia to protect the federal government from the extremist group al-Shabaab. In retaliation over Uganda’s deployment of troops to Somalia, the group carried out attacks in 2010 that killed at least 70 people who had assembled in public places in Kampala to watch a football World Cup game.
But the Allied Democratic Forces, with its local roots, has become a more pressing challenge to Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 35 years.
The group was established in the early 1990s by Ugandan Muslims who said they had been sidelined by Museveni’s policies. At the time, the rebel group staged deadly terrorist attacks in Ugandan villages as well as in the capital, including a 1998 attack in which 80 students were massacred in a frontier town near the Congo border.
A Ugandan military assault later forced the rebels into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to roam free because the central government has limited control there.
Reports of an alliance between the Allied Democratic Forces and Islamic State first emerged in 2019, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the online activities of extremist organisations.