KAMPALA , By Ben Simon (AFP)— Twin bombs tore into crowds watching the World Cup final in the Uganda capital, killing 64 including an American and wounding scores in one of the deadliest attacks to hit the city, officials said Monday.
The country’s police chief said the blasts at an Ethiopian-owned restaurant and a rugby club in Kampala late Sunday were a terrorist attack that may be linked to threats from Al Qaeda-inspired Islamist Shebab rebels in Somalia.
Security officers deployed to the scene blocked roads and cordoned off the damaged buildings, keeping journalists out as the injured were ferried to hospitals.
“We have 64 dead and 65 injured. The nationalities of all the fatalities will be released later,” national police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said.
Earlier police said at least 23 people had been killed.
An American citizen was among the dead, a US embassy spokeswoman in Kampala said.
An AFP correspondent saw three wounded US citizens at the city’s main Mulago hospital where dozens other injured people had been taken for treatment.
“We just wanted to watch the World Cup. Unfortunately we went to the Ethiopian village,” said US national 18-year-old Chris Sledge who suffered serious injuries to his legs and a bruised eye.
“I feel OK. Am gonna need surgery,” he said.
US President Barack Obama called the explosions “deplorable and cowardly”, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.
“The United States is ready to provide any assistance requested by the Ugandan government,” he said.
A senior administration official said the United States was in contact with its embassy in Kampala and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the Uganda’s government requests for assistance.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the explosions or the motive but national police chief Kale Kayihura told reporters the attack may be linked to the Shebab militants in nearby Somalia.
“Obviously this is terrorism. That one is clear,” he said.
“You know there have been declarations from Shebab and Al-Qaeda. Terrorism is a modern-day threat. You know the region we are in and our commitment in Somalia,” Kayihura said.
The Shebab last week urged Somalis to join the war against the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in Somalia which includes Ugandan and Burundian forces, blaming them for civilians death in Mogadishu.
The police chief added, however: “At this stage we can’t rule out anything.”
Uganda became the first country to send troops to Somalia in early 2007 to prop up the war-torn country’s transitional government. They were later joined by Burundian forces.
The hardline Shebab militia has repeatedly attacked the AU peacekeepers, killing scores and shrivelling the fragile government’s control of Mogadishu to just a few blocks.
Last week a regional bloc pledged to send additional 2,000 soldiers to Somalia to boost the peacekeepers’ strength to the required 8,100 troops, sparking belligerent reaction from the radical Islamist groups.
On Saturday the leaders of Somalia’s two Islamist movements met for talks aimed at joining forces against the Western-backed government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed which they are fighting to overthrow.
The police chief urged residents to avoid huge gatherings until it was clear who was responsible for the rare bomb attacks in the east African country.
“As we grapple to find out what could have caused this, I would appeal to members of the public to avoid big gatherings,” Kayihura said.
Video (NTVKenya): 64 killed in Uganda bomb blast