Fear and panic have gripped East Africa as terrorists linked to Islamic State and Al Shabaab step up their operations in the region.
In Tanzania, on the August 25, Hamza Mohammed, shot and killed three police officers and a private security guard on a rampage through a diplomatic quarter of Tanzania’s main city Dar es police officers with a pistol taking their rifles and heading to the nearby French embassy where he shot the security guard. The Tanzanian police said Hamza, who was eventually shot dead, was a terrorist.
According to police investigations, the gunman was in communication “with other people who live in countries with terrorism-related acts but mainly he was learning through radical social media pages.
Tanzania’s Inspector-General of Police Simon Sirro suggested the attack could be related to Tanzania’s role in neighbouring Mozambique, where the country has sent troops to help fight Islamist insurgents as part of a regional security force.
In September, the Rwanda National Police paraded 13 suspects linked to ADF arrested for planning to conduct terrorist attacks in Kigali in retaliation to deployment of Rwandan troops in Mozambique.
Rwanda, at the request of Mozambique, on July 9, deployed 1,000 troops to Cabo Delgado to contain the terror group there that had killed more than 2,500 people, displaced close to a million others, and destroyed property and infrastructure, including schools and health centres, in the vast Province.
The apparently Islamist group Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) spontaneously sprang up in northern Mozambique without warning in 2017 and overwhelmed the Mozambican army. ASWJ has become significantly more dangerous and sophisticated since it first started up.
But by early 2020, the insurgents had taken significant stockpiles of weapons from government security forces and were able to mount attacks on district capitals, including the port of Mocimboa da Praia. Government forces fled the city in August.
However, the Rwandan soldiers deployed to the area in July were able to retake Mocímboa da Praia, which the militants had held for over a year, with relative ease.
In Uganda, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the twin suicide bombings that rocked the capital, Kampala, early on Tuesday November 16 that left six dead including three suicide bombers and 36 injured.
The two explosions occurred within three minutes of each other. Both were carried out by attackers carrying explosives. A possible attack on a third target was foiled by police, who pursued and disarmed a suspected suicide bomber.
One blast was near the Kampala Central Police Station and the other on a street near the parliamentary building and the Inspector General of Government offices. The sucide bomber of Central Police Station was identified by security authorities as Mansoor Uthman and the one blew himself up at Parliament Avenue was Wanjusi Abdallah.
It is the first time the bombers have dared attack government facilities in Uganda, and the message was clear, “we can hit you if we want.”
Ugandan officials have been urging vigilance in the wake of a string of bomb explosions in recent weeks. One person was killed and at least seven others wounded in an explosion at a restaurant in a suburb of Kampala on 23 October. Another explosion two days later on a passenger bus killed only the suicide bomber.
Police says they have recently neutralized 150 planned attacks.
As the bomb blasts continue to go off in Uganda, next door in Kenya there is a countrywide manhunt for three Islamist militants described as dangerous who escaped from a maximum-security prison just outside the capital, Nairobi.
The fugitives include Mohamed Ali Abikar, who was convicted for his role in the Garissa University attack in 2015 in which 148 people were killed.
The Kenyan authorities have also made an appeal to the public, offering $178,000/£132,000 for information about the three escapees, who have all been in jail for terrorism-related offences.
The second man was arrested in 2012 over a foiled attack on the Kenyan parliament and the third for trying to join the al-Shabab militant group in Somalia.
It is suspected that the terrorists behind violence in East Africa are one of three “new” Islamic State affiliates that have come to the fore: the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the Islamic State in Somalia, and the Islamic State in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Most terror groups in East Africa including the ADF are linked to the Islamic State in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda (ISISSKTU) also known as Jahba East Africa that has raised concerns.
Jahba East Africa was reportedly initiated by Mohamed Abdi Ali, a medical intern from Kenya who, along with his wife, was subsequently arrested in May 2016 for plotting to spread anthrax in Kenya to match the scale of destruction of the 2013 Westgate Mall attacks.
The group is composed of East African citizens who had previously been part of al-Shabaab. ISISSKTU is thought to contain elements of al-Shabaab that were once described as that group’s “foreign fighters.”
Jahba East Africa has proven to be more of an ideological threat than a physical one. It’s most notable attack was on a convoy from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in April 2016, registering as the first time that an Islamic State affiliate had claimed an attack in Somalia.
Islamic State recently incorporated most African terror groups into their ranks including the ADF that is based in eastern DR Congo.
In September 2020, Musa Baluku, who served as a senior ADF Islamic legal official before consolidating power following Jamil Mukulu’s 2015 arrest, stated in one propaganda video that the ADF had ceased to exist and had incorporated itself into the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province, marking the ADF’s most explicit attempt to align with the Islamic State.
ADF is suspected of killing 6,000 people since 2013, while the Kivu Security Tracker blames it for more than 1,200 deaths in North Kivu province’s Beni area since 2017.
The terrorists in Uganda are not just planting bombs, they have in the past conducted high profile assassinations that left about a dozen Muslim clerics dead since 2012.
In June, Katumba Wamala, a trusted ally and minister of President Museveni, survived an assassination attempt. The attack on Katumba wounded him but killed his daughter and driver. The suspects have been linked to ADF.
Although, Gen Katumba survived some of his colleagues in government have not. Government believes the ADF killed the Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kawesi; Sheik Major Mohammed Kiggundu, a former ADF commander who defected to UPDF; Joan Kagezi, a Senior Principal State Attorney, who headed the Directorate of Public Prosecution’s war crimes and anti-terrorism division that was prosecuting suspects of the 2010 Kampala suicide bombing which killed 76 people and Ibrahim Abiriga, a controversial and staunch NRM loyalist parliamentarian.
President Museveni says seven ADF terrorists have been killed while resisting arrest; 81 have been arrested and three have been killed by the bombs they were carrying. Three Improvised Explosive Devices have been recovered.
The Ugandan leader is calling for a regional approach to eliminate or neutralize the terrorists.
President Museveni says he is ready to work with neighbours.
“We are working with the neighbours to deal with those operating from outside,” said Gen Museveni in a tweet on November 16.
Museveni is right. There is necessity for a regional coalition to be formed to confront the terrorists.
Mr Claude Ibalanky Ekolomba, a senior DRC official, in July told the fourth meeting of Heads of Intelligence and Security services of the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania in Bujumbura that the Islamic State intends to set up a base in the Great Lakes region using the DRC as their headquarters.
This means that President Museveni must also reconcile with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame and engage other East African leaders to forge a common front to counter the terrorists.
In a meeting with American tycoons who are concerned about the growing insecurity in eastern DRC, President Museveni promised to work with the DR Congo to defeat the Allied Democratic Forces-ADF terror group.
On November 9, President Museveni met a delegation from the United States led by Howard G. Buffet, the Chief Executive Officer of Buffet Foundation, a philanthropist and conservationist who is also the son of the United States billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Shannon Sedgewick Davis, the Chief Executive Officer of Bridgeway Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to ending and preventing mass atrocities around the world at State House Entebbe.
The Bridgeway Foundation and the Buffet Foundation are involved in peace and security in the Great Lakes region. Their current focus is on the restoration of security in the DR Congo.
On November 7, the Americans had also met with President Paul Kagame in Rwanda