In Uganda, ADF Islamists in the sights of the authorities

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Ugandan police officers investigate the crime scene of the explosion on a bus, where at least one person died and several were injured, near Kampala on October 25, 2021.

the “Domestic terrorism” resurfaces in Uganda. According to the first elements of the investigation delivered Tuesday, October 26 by the police, the attacks which targeted, Saturday, a restaurant in the north of Kampala and, two days later, a bus which circulated about thirty kilometers from the Ugandan capital, were both carried out by individuals close to the Islamist insurgents of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

The attackers “Belonged to sleeper cells in the country”, ensures the communiqué issued by law enforcement. The latter claim to have identified the alleged perpetrator of Monday’s suicide bombing: introduced as Isaac Matovu, the 23-year-old lived in the popular Kireka district of Kampala and was known to the counterterrorism services as a member of the ADF .

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These attacks “Confirm our information that ADF cells in Uganda have considerably recruited, radicalized and studied the making of homemade bombs” in recent months, police spokesman Fred Enanga told a press conference.

“The individuals who prepared these explosive devices belong to the same group”, he said, adding that the attacks were planned by Meddie Nkalubo, Ugandan leader of the ADF known under the pseudonym of “Executioner”, who has been living in hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for several years.

One of the bloodiest armed groups

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni himself mentioned a link between Monday’s suicide bombing and a foiled attempt on August 27, during the state funeral of Paul Lokech, Inspector General of Police. Two suspects, attached by the authorities to ADF cells in Kampala, had been arrested, and a third killed by the police in early October.

The result of a merger between several rebel movements and followers of Tabligh, an Islamist sect centered on preaching and proselytism, the ADF had become known in the 1990s in Uganda. Bringing together a few hundred men, they carried out several bloody operations.

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Attacks like the one that hit the National Technical Institute in Kichwamba in the west of the country in June 1998: nearly 80 students died in the assault, most of them burned alive in their dormitories.

Present in the border region of the Rwenzori Mountains, but now mainly established in eastern DRC, the ADF are considered today as one of the bloodiest armed groups operating in Ituri and the Kivus. They are held responsible for several thousand civilian deaths. Violence sometimes claimed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

“Around Kampala”

Since April 2019, the organization – to which Musa Seka Baluku, at the head of the ADF, had pledged allegiance in 2016 – indeed officially considers the armed group as one of the branches of its “province of Central Africa” ​​( Iscap in English). It is also ISIS which claimed responsibility for the explosion which left one dead and several injured in a restaurant in the Ugandan capital on Saturday 23 October.

Two weeks earlier, ISIS had endorsed for the first time an action carried out by its operatives in Uganda: a bombing of a police station in Kawempe, north of Kampala. “It was a silent attack, without victims, without significant damage and without media coverage, but this claim must be taken seriously, estimates Ignatius Bahizi, journalist specializing in security issues in the Great Lakes region. This is the first evidence of possible connections or the presence of ISIS cells in Kampala. “

In recent years, Uganda had been relatively spared from terrorist attacks. “But ADF cells, even dormant, have always been present in the country”, says security analyst David Egesa. “The majority of recruitments come from the districts of Kasese and Bundibugyo [dans l’ouest de l’Ouganda], stronghold of the ADF in the 1990s, but also around Kampala. The suspects arrested in recent months have moreover names originating in the region of the capital ”, souligne Ignatius Bahizi.

The increase in recruitments noted by the police is confirmed by David Esega. But, according to the analyst, they do not reflect religious radicalization. “Young people join these groups out of social distress, because of an even more difficult economic context since the Covid-19”, says the researcher.

How many ADFs are there today and what means do they have? The question is for the moment impossible to decide. Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the explosives used on Saturday and Monday were extremely sketchy. In addition, these attacks targeted easily accessible sites, “Which reveals the work of a rather rudimentary group”. Nevertheless, ” we think that [les terroristes] could pursue a larger plan and carry out a major attack ”, warned the police spokesperson.

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In Uganda, ADF Islamists in the sights of the authorities