Terrorist cells are being dismantled, hostile suspects killed, new recruits especially children are being intercepted and some terrorists have been cornered and are on the run.
Five terrorist cells that were unearthed in Luwero (central Uganda), mid-western Uganda (Ntoroko and Bundibugyo), Kampala (Mpererwe and Lweza) and northern Uganda (Paidha) have been dismantled by a combined security team of intelligence, military and police.
Also three sets of improvised explosive device (IEDs) have been recovered in Kampala and detonated.
At least 80 children have been rescued —22 from a recruitment and radicalization centre, in Kasengejje, Wakiso District, three from Bunia, seven from Kasese and 50 from Bombo, all trained in weapon handling, detonating and planting bombs.
This is the situation in Uganda after a string of bombs were allegedly exploded by the Allied Democratic Forces terror group in Kampala in the last one month.
According to the police, seven suspects have been killed while resisting arrest. Security operatives are also hunting for other two key suspects, who are on the run.
However, Ugandans appear to be more concerned about the controversial killing of suspected terrorist Sheik Muhammad Kirevu. Many ask; was the killing a disguised state assassination or an arrest gone wrong?
Kirevu, according to police, was one of those senior ADF covert operatives in charge of recruitment and logistics in Uganda.
The Muslim cleric was gunned down in cold blood. According to his family, the sheikh was shot dead while on handcuffs—a typical military assassination. The Muslim leader was killed in the presence of his children.
Police says that Sheikh Kirevu and his colleague Sheikh Sulaiman Nsubuga, who is currently on the run, were using their networks to identify vulnerable individuals and families to recruit from. The two would facilitate recruits to move into the DR Congo for training and radicalization. They also provided logistics for terror operations in Uganda.
But police says the sheikh was killed while attempting to escape. Security Minister Jim Muhwezi said Kirevu attempted to run away from arrest, and was shot to incapacitate him but died as a result of injuries.
“Security is the last to want those suspects dead because they have vital information. They are of high value. They are not killed deliberately. Some of them fight back in the process of being apprehended. Our wish is to arrest them,” Muhwezi explained during a talk-show on NBS television on last week.
Anything can happen within a radius of arresting the suspects, police spokesman Fred Enanga told local media.
These two accounts on how Kirevu was killed have caused outrage and indignation amongst Uganda’s elite who accuse President Yower Museveni’s government of high handedness and persecution of Muslims.
Not only Kirevu has been killed in cold blood. Another suicide bomber that planned to explode a third bomb in Bwaise, a Kampala outskirt on the D-day of the twin explosions, was allegedly gunned down at his home in Katookye, Nansana, Wakiso District.
Other four terror suspects that were reportedly part of the recruitment and logistics team in Uganda were also shot dead in Ntoroko, mid-western Uganda in an attempt to cross the border into the DRC with more than a dozen fresh recruits.
An NBS news reporter in Ntoroko claims the suspects were shot dead by a plain clothes security operative after the suspects were arrested and put on handcuffs.
But police says the suspects were killed in ambush as they tried to force their way through a check point and evade arrest. They are leading 13 recruits into the DR Congo.
It is one of the recruits Musa Abdallah Ayebare that led security operatives to Shiekh Kirevu that was killed.
Another ADF suspect was allegedly cornered at killed at his home after revealing “useful” information to security. Mugamba Matovu Mudasiru aka Moze reportedly had an improvised explosive device (IED) at his home.
According to President Museveni, 12 terror suspects have been “put out of action” since the attempted assassination of former army commander and current Minister for Transport and Works Gen Katumba Wamala five months ago.
President Museveni said the ADF terrorists wanted to kill Gen Katumba Wamala because he was superintending over construction of roads into the DRC that would make ADF bases more accessible.
So far 106 terror suspects have been arrested. But most Ugandans claim killing suspects without give them opportunity for fair trial is extrajudicial.
But some experts argue that security is toeing the fleeing felon rule, which permits the use of force, including deadly force, against an individual who is suspected of a felony and is in clear flight.
Museveni’s new approach to tackling ADF threats appears to be changing. After the Kampala twin bombs that left six people dead including three suicide bombers and 37 injured, President Museveni nolonger sees the terrorists as criminals but rather than as enemy combatants.
“My advice to all of them is to surrender and save themselves, if not they will all die. If they run out to neighbouring countries we shall follow them there,” said President Yoweri Museveni in a televised evening speech on Saturday November 20.
Museveni said his security team pursuing the terrorists has put together a list of all the ADF operatives and their collaborators, which the police will soon publish.
“This is not a military conflict. The hunt is an intelligence-led campaign. We just need to find out who and where. We have better intelligence. Their weapon is hiding and doing bad things. Our struggle is to uncover the hiding and locate where they are,” said President Museveni.
Museveni’s government has also ruled out talks with the ADF.
“Negotiating with ADF is not one of the options we are looking at. It (ADF) has no clear agenda,” Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi has said.
Mr Museveni’s hard-line views come at a time the country is becoming polarized along religious lines with the Muslim community accusing government of targeting their members without proof of crime as suspect after suspect is “put out of action.”
In a press statement date November 18, 2021, an association of Muslim lawyers castigated government for persecuting Muslims.
“It is offensive to the Muslim community for persons to attribute these crimes 9terrorism) to our faith, and expect Muslims to always apologize for terror attacks undertaken by individuals and with which we have no connection. On previous occasions, many Muslims were arrested, tortured and charged with terrorism related offences only for the state to withdraw the charges after the accused have been incarcerated for more than five years and convicted by the public court,” stated the Uganda Muslim Lawyers Association.
“Muslims are feeling marginalized. This will cause the regime more problems than it has,” said former army commander and currently the president for Alliance for National Transformation, a new opposition political party.
But police says they are not witch-hunting Muslims in the fight against terror. “We want to reiterate that the arrested persons are not targeted for their beliefs, ideology and religion because that would make appear biased,” police spokesman Fred Enanga said in a statement issued on November 22.
Several Muslims have in the recent past been charged with assassination of high profile security persons and Muslim leaders only for the suspects to later be acquitted.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented cases in which Ugandan security have allegedly tortured ADF suspects and held them without trial for long periods.
Three suspects, Ali Mugoya alias Byantuyo Abdu Magid, Sinani Hibwagi Dhikusooka Faisal alias Farouk and Abdullah Kaala alias Tiger, accused of murdering former police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi were 11 years later slapped with fresh charges of being members of the rebel Allied Democratic Forces.
Other eight suspects indicted for the murder Kaweesi petitioned court to declare their trial a nullity on grounds that they were tortured during arrest.
The accused say they were tortured by security organs while being arrested, which is contrary to the provisions of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act, 2012 and the Trial Indictment Act.
In October 2017, court awarded the suspects Ush1.7b after it ruled that they were tortured on arrest.
Sheikh Mohammad Yunus Kamoga, a leader of the Tabliq Muslim group and three associates were sentenced to life in prison on “terrorism” charges, a judgment denounced by some as the latest in a series of anti-Muslim rulings.
In a three-and-a-half-hour judgement over Kamoga and his associates, Justice Muhanguzi said that while the men were not proven to have killed anyone, they had used threatening leaflets and loudspeakers to intimidate rivals.
Evidence for Muslim involvement in the high-profile killings was flimsy at best, human rights lawyer Rwakafuzi commented after the court ruling.
The President of Uganda Bloggers Association Isma Olaxi broadcast a video on social media claiming Muslims were being persecuted by police and the military, and that most of the suspects were arrested on trumped up charges.
The archbishop of the Church Of Uganda Dr Stephen Kazimba Mugalu said they were concerned on how government was handling the war on terror. “We as religious leaders under the inter-religious council of Uganda are deeply disturbed by the trend of terrorism which appears to be gaining ground in our country,” he said.
The Minister for ICT and National Guidance Dr. Chris Baryomunsi in response said the government had nothing against the Muslims in Uganda. It just happens that those in connection to terrorism have Islamic names, he said.
“We have not condemned Muslims, and the government of Uganda has nothing against them. When security comes, they don’t ask you about your faith. It just so happens that the suspects have Muslim names. This doesn’t mean Muslims in Uganda are criminals. It can be a coincidence that you arrest a group and all of them are Christians or Muslims,” said Baryomunsi.
In 2012–A two-page dossier authored by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC), hoping to drum up support for Muslims to be considered by President Museveni for top political appointments, reawakened the long-standing complaint that Uganda’s Muslim minority is marginalized.
The ADF was established in the early 1990s by some Ugandan Muslims, who said they had been side-lined 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 at Kichwamba polytechnic college in Fort Portal near the Congo border.
The ADF was formed by puritanical Ugandan Muslims belonging to the Tablighi Jamaat, who had merged with the remnants of another rebel group, the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU).
The ADF are fighting for the establishment of an Islamic nation ruled under sharia law. To weaken the group, President Museveni opted for a carrot and stick policy under which dozens of ADF leaders who agreed to abandon the rebellion were given amnesty, cash handouts and government jobs.
The leader of the group was Jamil Mukulu, a former Protestant who converted to Islam and was arrested in Tanzania in 2015 then extradited to Uganda and jailed.
The group is now led by Seka Musa Baluku who in 2017 swore allegiance to the Islamic State for ADF to become DRC-ISIS also called “Central Africa Province or “Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen.”
Baluku’s ascent to the leadership also marked a shift to much more brutal tactics in North Kivu. The killing of civilians accelerated rapidly, at least in part because they were perceived as non-believers, the authors suggest.
The biggest worry for Ugandans is that the rebel group, which has been confined to the jungles, has since transformed into an urban-based terrorist group.
The ADF, which has come under persistent military attacks on its positions in Eastern DRC by the Congolese military and occasionally the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces, has transformed from a conventional rebel force into a terrorist group with no frontlines.
The ADF has mainly been operating from the DRC after it was defeated from Uganda in 2007, the group moved into northern Congo and has operated as an Islamist militant group primarily in the Kivu region of the DRC.
The group is known for the brutal massacre of civilians in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri provinces, and has killed at least 739 civilians in the region since May 2021.
The DRC’s Catholic Church says the 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.