Monday, July 12, 2010

Somalia's Islamists Strike In Uganda

Dozens of people have been killed in a double bomb attack in the capital of Uganda, Kampala. A rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant were the targets of the blasts, which targeted football fans watching the World Cup final. Somalia's Islamist al-Shabaab group is already being blamed.

The al-Shabaab organisation is sometimes described as having links to al-Qaeda, although as far as we know that's only true in the sense that it shares some of the aims and philosophies of Osama bin Laden's network, rather than anything more tangible like money or weapons. It formed out of the remnants of the UIC, a hardline Islamic group which briefly ran lawless Somalia in 2006, until it was overthrown by the US-backed Ethiopian army for being rather too much like the Taliban for Washington's liking.

The decision to target an Ethiopian restaurant therefore hints at al-Shabaab being behind the Kampala attacks, as does the choice of Uganda itself, as Uganda has supplied some of the African Union forces currently trying to protect what little central government there is to speak of in Somalia.

But the most significant thing about last night's attacks are their scale. al-Shabaab has grown in strength of late, partly bolstered by cash flowing into the country through ransoms paid to Somali pirates. Last winter, al-Shabaab was linked to an attack on the man responsible for the Prophet Mohammed cartoons at his home in Denmark. If that incident suggested the group was developing the ambition and capability to strike at targets abroad, the Uganda blasts confirm that both of those factors are only increasing with time. It could once again be up to US-backed Ethiopian forces to move into al-Shabaab's heartland in rural Somalia, to try to reverse that growing strength.

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