By William Tucker
At approximately 11:00 p.m. local time, two bombs struck a restaurant and a Rugby club in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. The current official death toll is unknown, reported to be above 30, but the damage is substantial. Local authorities believe that the targets were chosen because of the large presence of locals and foreigners watching the World Cup. Thus far no one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but speculation has already fallen on the Somali al-Shabaab terror group.
Analysts that follow al-Shabaab have speculated as to the capabilities of the terror group to carry out attacks outside of Somalia, but because of a lack of data it has been difficult to accurately assess al-Shabaab’s external operations capability. On March 12 of this year I expressed concern over reports that al-Qaeda veteran Fazul Abdullah Mohammad had been given control over some operational aspects of al-Shabaab. It is possible that these blasts were an opening salvo in an enhanced capability to strike at nations militarily involved in propping up the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
That being said, it is possible that al-Shabaab had help in carrying out this attack if they are indeed responsible. As far as support from a nation state Eritrea would be at the top of the list if not the sole country for consideration. In December 2009, the UN Security Council hit the small country with sanctions for its support of al-Shabaab in contravention of the UN backed African Union troops that guard the fledgling government in Mogadishu. Keep in mind that this is speculation on my part and not indicative of any immediate evidence in my possession.
With the decline of competing Islamist groups, such as Hizbul Islam, al-Shabaab has been steadily consolidating its power base in southern Somalia. Recently, there have been reports of protesting in al-Shabaab controlled cities against the TFG in Mogadishu which was likely organized by al-Shabaab as a means of demonstrating its political prowess. Given the increase of al-Shabaab’s activity and the lack of meaningful international support for the TFG, the situation in Somalia is likely to go from bad to worse. Another Islamist group is posturing to take over Somalia much as the Islamic Courts Union did a few years back. Then, just as now, the international community is not showing an interest in the situation meaning that the TFG could be another short lived experiment.