Ugandan authorities have killed at least five people, including a Muslim cleric, accused of links to the extremist group responsible for Tuesday’s suicide bombings in the capital, police said Thursday.
Four men were killed in a shootout in a border town near the western border with Congo as they tried to cross back into Uganda. Police spokesman Fred Inanga said a fifth man, Muhammad Kirivu, was killed in a “violent confrontation” when security forces raided his home outside Kampala.
He said another cleric, Suleiman Nsubuga, is undergoing a manhunt, accusing the two men of radicalizing young Muslims and encouraging them to join underground cells to launch violent attacks.
The police raids follow Tuesday’s blasts that killed at least four civilians when suicide bombers detonated explosives at two locations in Kampala. One attack took place near Parliament and the second near a crowded police station. The attacks sparked chaos and disorder in the city and raised the concerns of the international community.
Inanga said a total of 21 suspects with alleged links to the perpetrators are in custody.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bombings, saying they were carried out by Ugandans. Ugandan authorities have blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces, an extremist group allied to ISIS since 2019.
President Yoweri Museveni identified the alleged suicide bombers in a statement warning that security forces were “coming” for alleged members of the Alliance of Democratic Forces.
While the Ugandan authorities are under pressure to show they are in control of the situation, the killing of the suspects is raising fears of a violent crackdown that will kill innocents.
Despite the horror of the bomb attacks, Maria Burnett, a human rights attorney at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “It remains important to ensure that no terrorist attack is translated into a blank check for human rights abuse under the pretext of counter-terrorism.”
She said: “Across East Africa, terrorism has sometimes been a pretext to entrap political opponents, civilian actors and even refugees seeking protection. Such actions risk radicalizing people to support non-state actors and provide these actors with an easy propaganda tool.”
Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases in which Ugandan security forces allegedly tortured ADF suspects and held them without trial for extended periods.
The Alliance of Democratic Forces has for years opposed the rule of Museveni, a US security ally who was the first African leader to deploy peacekeepers to Somalia to protect the federal government from the extremist group al-Shabab. In response to Uganda’s deployment of troops in Somalia, that group carried out attacks in 2010 that killed at least 70 people who gathered in public places in Kampala to watch a soccer World Cup match.
But the Alliance of Democratic Forces, with its local roots, has become a more pressing challenge to Museveni, 77, who has ruled Uganda for 35 years and was re-elected to a five-year term in January.
The group was founded in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims, who said Museveni’s policies had marginalized them. At the time, the rebel group launched deadly attacks in Ugandan villages as well as in the capital, including a 1998 attack that killed 80 students in a town near the Congo border.
Subsequently, a Ugandan military offensive forced the rebels into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups can roam freely because central government control there is limited.