Twin Uganda bomb attacks kill 64 at World Cup parties

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Twin bomb attacks ripped through crowds watching the World Cup final in Kampala, killing 64 and wounding scores in blasts blamed on Al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, officials said Monday.

No group claimed responsibility for the carnage at a Kampala sports bar and an Ethiopian restaurant but Uganda pointed at Shebab insurgents in Somalia, where Uganda has thousands of troops deployed in an African Union mission.

At least one American was among those killed in the explosions, which US President Barack Obama swiftly condemned as "cowardly".

The attacks came days ahead of the July 19-27 African Union summit in Kampala, which the government said would go ahead as planned.

"We have 64 dead and 65 injured. The nationalities of all the fatalities will be released later," national police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said.

Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said police were trying to determine if suicide bombers carried out the attacks.

"While there is evidence to suggest that there were suicide bombers, at the same time it is thought that the bombs were under some chairs," he told reporters.

A US embassy spokeswoman confirmed one American was among the dead and an AFP correspondent saw at least three wounded US citizens at the city's main Mulago hospital, where dozens were rushed in for treatment.

"We just wanted to watch the World Cup. Unfortunately we went to the Ethiopian Village," said Chris Sledge, an 18-year-old US national who suffered serious injuries to his legs and a bruised eye.

"I feel OK. I'm going to need surgery," he said.

The attacks, which dampened the party mood around the first World Cup tournament held in Africa, drew a barrage of international condemnation.

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner described the attacks as "barbaric".

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply shocked" by news of the blasts, adding they were "cowardly attacks during an event that was widely seen as a celebration of African unity."

"The president is deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks, and sends his condolences to the people of Uganda and the loved ones of those who have been killed or injured," US National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said.

The United States was in contact with its embassy in Kampala and the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding Uganda's requests for assistance, said a senior US administration official.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni condemned the attack and vowed to pursue the attackers.

"People who are watching football are not people who should be targeted," Museveni said when he visited the Kampala Rugby Club bar, which along with an Ethiopian restaurant located some four kilometres (2.4 miles) away, were hit.

"We should go for them because they are very irresponsible, backward and cowardly," he added at the scene where some survivors said two blasts went off.

Police chief Kale Kayihura told reporters it was too early to say who was behind the attack but suggested Uganda's leading role in the African Union force (AMISOM) battling the Shebab in Somalia could be the motive.

"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."

The Shebab did not immediately comment on the bombings. A website linked to the group carried a news story on the attacks under the headline "glad tidings".

Another website close to the Shebab stopped short of claiming the attacks but said "more Somalis who have suffered in the AMISOM bombardment will feel at peace when they see the mujahideen youth movement (Shebab) delivering on their pledge to retaliate for AMISOM massacres in Mogadishu."

Several factors pointed to a possible motive for Shebab involvement: they struck Uganda, they cast a pall on the upcoming AU summit, they destroyed an Ethiopian restaurant and ripped through a group of football fans.

Shebab opposes Ethiopia because it sent troops into Somalia to support the transitional government against the Islamist hardliners.

The Shebab, which controls most of Somalia and imposes a strict form of Islamic law (Sharia), had banned people from gathering to watch the World Cup in areas it controls.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra condemned the Uganda blasts "in the strongest possible terms".

© 2010 AFP

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