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Explosions tore through crowds watching the World Cup final at a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant, killing at least 64 people. Police feared an al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group was behind the attacks, as Uganda’s president declared Monday “we shall get them wherever they are.”
The blasts came two days after a commander with the Somali group, al-Shabab, called for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi, two nations that contribute troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
A California-based aid group said one of its American workers was among the dead. Police said Ethiopian, Indian and Congolese nationals were also among those killed and wounded, police said.
Several other Americans were wounded in the attack, some from a Pennsylvania church group, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.
Joann Lockard, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Kampala, didn’t have specific updates on the conditions of the injured, but advised any Americans still in the country to stay away from “large public gatherings as an added measure of security,” during an appearance on CBS’ “The Early Show”. However, Lockard said there were no specific threats against Americans.
Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday there were indications that two suicide bombers took part in the late Sunday attacks, which left nearly 60 others wounded. If al-Shabab did carry out the blasts, it would be the first time the group has struck outside of Somalia.
Blood and pieces of flesh littered the floor among overturned chairs at the scenes of the blasts, which went off as people watched the game between Spain and the Netherlands. The attack on the rugby club, where crowds sat outside watching a large-screen TV, left 49 dead, police said. Fifteen others were killed in the restaurant explosion.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni toured the blast sites Monday and said that the terrorists behind the bombings should fight soldiers, not “people who are just enjoying themselves.”
“We shall go for them wherever they are coming from,” Museveni said. “We will look for them and get them as we always do.”
Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said it was too early to speculate about any military response to the attacks.
Kampala’s police chief, Kale Kaihura, said he believed Somalia’s most feared militant group, al-Shabab, could be responsible for the attack. Al-Shabab is known to have links with al Qaeda, and it counts militant veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts among its ranks. Simultaneous attacks are also one of al Qaeda’s hallmarks. The U.S. State Department has designated al-Shabab a terrorist organization.
Invisible Children, a San Diego, California-based aid group that helps child soldiers, identified the dead American as one of its workers, Nate Henn, who was killed on the rugby field.
“From traveling the United States without pay advocating for the freedom of abducted child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s war, to raising thousands of dollars to put war-affected Ugandan students in school, Nate lived a life that demanded explanation. He sacrificed his comfort to live in the humble service of God and of a better world, and his is a life to be emulated,” the group said in a statement on its website.
Kony heads the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has waged one of Africa’s longest and most brutal rebellions, in northern Uganda.
Several Americans from a Pennsylvania church group were wounded in the restaurant attack including Kris Sledge, 18, of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He said from a hospital bed afterward that he was “just glad to be alive.”
Uganda’s government spokesman said the first blast occurred at the Ethiopian Village restaurant at 10:55 p.m. Two more blasts happened at the rugby field 20 minutes later, he said.
Officials said the attacks will not affect the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19-27. Many African leaders are expected to attend.
“The summit will go on. The AU and African countries have the resolve to fight terrorism with the international community,” said Ramtane Lamamra, the AU’s peace and security commissioner.
Al-Shabab’s fighters, including two recruited from the Somali communities in the United States, have carried out multiple suicide bombings in Somalia.
Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a longtime enemy of al-Shabab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbor of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia between December 2006 to January 2009 to back Somalia’s fragile government against the Islamic insurgency. Ethiopia later withdrew its troops under an intricate peace deal mediated by the United Nations.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, Sheik Yusuf Sheik Issa, an al-Shabab commander, told The Associated Press early Monday that he was happy with the attacks in Uganda. Issa refused to confirm or deny that al-Shabab was responsible for the bombings.
“Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah’s anger be upon those who are against us,” Sheik said.
In addition to Uganda’s troops in Mogadishu, Uganda also hosts Somali soldiers trained in U.S. and European-backed programs.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. was prepared to provide any necessary assistance to the Ugandan government.
President Barack Obama was “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks,” Vietor said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Obama in offering condolences and added, “The United States stands with Uganda. We have a long-standing, close friendship with the people and government of Uganda and will work with them to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”
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