The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's explosions, saying they were carried out by Ugandans. Ugandan 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 violent crackdown in which innocent people are 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 radicalizing people in support of nonstate 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 U.S. security ally who was the first African leader to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia to protect the federal government from the extremist group al-Shabab. 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 a soccer World Cup game.
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.