Uganda: Bombing was Abhorrent Expansion of Attacks on Civilians

The bomb blasts that killed at least 76 people in Kampala on July 11, 2010, were a heinous attack on civilians and an assault on the basic tenet of the right to life, Human Rights Watch said today. Uganda and other regional governments should ensure that Somali refugee and Muslim communities are protected from potential reprisals or arbitrary targeting by law enforcement. The two simultaneous bomb blasts hit an Ethiopian restaurant and a rugby club, where people had gathered to watch the World Cup final. Ali Mohamed Raghe, the spokesperson for the Somali Islamist armed group al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the bombings and threatened further attacks if Uganda and Burundi continue to supply troops to AMISOM, the African Union military force in Somalia that is backed by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union. "These bombings are an indefensible assault on the right to life" said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "There is never any justification for such abhorrent attacks on civilians, and al-Shabaab should immediately stop targeting civilians in Somalia and the region." Human Rights Watch has previously documented patterns of al-Shabaab attacks on civilians in Somalia, where the group is fighting the Transitional Federal Government. The Kampala bombings are the first time the insurgent group has claimed responsibility for an attack on civilians outside Somalia, although individuals aligned with al-Shabaab who are believed to have links to al Qaeda have been accused of deadly attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Concerns that al-Shabaab could strike outside of Somalia have increased over the past few months, and the attacks in Kampala may create further instability in an already-volatile region.  Al-Shabaab has previously threatened attacks in Kenya, which borders Somalia and is host to more than 300,000 Somali refugees. It has also threatened attacks in another neighbor, Ethiopia, which intervened militarily in Somalia in 2006 to support the weak Somali transitional government. Responses in the wake of the Kampala bombing, however, raise concerns that regional counterterrorism operations may adversely affect Somali refugees and Muslim communities already vulnerable to abuses from private citizens or host government security forces.

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