Ugandan authorities have killed at least five people, including a Muslim cleric, accused of having ties to the extremist group responsible for Tuesday’s suicide bombings in the capital.
Four men were killed in a shootout in a frontier town near the western border with Congo as they tried to cross back into Uganda, police said on Thursday. A fifth man, a cleric named Muhammad Kirevu, was killed in “a violent confrontation” when security forces raided his home outside Kampala, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said.
A second cleric, Suleiman Nsubuga, is the subject of a manhunt, he said, accusing the two clerics of radicalising young Muslim men and encouraging them to join underground cells to carry out violent attacks.
The police raids come after the explosions on Tuesday in which at least four civilians were killed when suicide bombers detonated their explosives at two locations in Kampala. One attack happened near the parliamentary building and the second near a busy police station. The attacks sparked chaos and confusion in the city as well as outpourings of concern from the international community.
A total of 21 suspects with alleged links to the perpetrators are in custody, Enanga said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s explosions, saying they were carried out by Ugandans. Authorities blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, an extremist group that has been allied with IS since 2019.
President Yoweri Museveni identified the alleged suicide bombers in a statement in which he warned that security forces were “coming for” alleged members of the ADF.
While Ugandan authorities are under pressure to show they are in control of the situation, the killings of suspects raise fears of a crackdown in which innocent people will become victims.
Despite the horror of the bomb attacks, “it remains critical to ensure no terrorist attack translates into a blank check to violate human rights under a pretext of fighting terror”, said Maria Burnett, a rights lawyer with the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
“Across east Africa, terrorism has been a pretext at times to ensnare political opponents, civic actors, and even refugees seeking protection,” she said. “Such actions risk radicalising people in support of non-state actors and hands those actors an easy propaganda tool.”
Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases in which Ugandan security have allegedly tortured ADF suspects and held them without trial for long periods.
The ADF has for years been opposed to the long rule of Museveni, a US security ally who was the first African leader to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia to protect the federal government from the extremist group al-Shabaab.
In retaliation over Uganda’s deployment of troops to Somalia, that group carried out attacks in 2010 that killed at least 70 people who had assembled in public places in Kampala to watch the football World Cup final.
But the ADF, with its local roots, has become a more pressing challenge to Museveni, 77, who has ruled Uganda for 35 years and was reelected to a five-year term in January.
The group was established in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims, who said they had been sidelined by Museveni’s policies. At the time, the rebel group staged deadly attacks in Ugandan villages as well as in the capital, including a 1998 attack in which 80 students were massacred in a town near the Congo border.
A Ugandan military assault later forced the rebels into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to roam free because the central government has limited control there.