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October 20, 2013

Uganda Increases Vigilance after US Embassy Security Alert

by Peter Clottey

Uganda’s government spokesman says the US embassy has shared intelligence with the administration warning of a possible terrorist attack, similar to the one on Kenya’s Westgate mall nearly a month ago. 

In response, Ofwono Opondo says President Yoweri Museveni’s government has placed all security agencies on high alert.

“We have [taken] extra security measures. We have deployed both covert and overt personnel in major busy areas of the government and business districts of just not Kampala, but [also] around the country,” said Opondo. “We are sending out alerts calling on the public to be vigilant -- particularly proprietors of premises that are frequently visited by many people.”

The US embassy warning comes nearly a month after militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate Shopping, leaving at least 67 people dead and scores injured. The hard line Somali insurgent group, al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Opondo says senior security officials have reviewed measures to ensure adequate preparedness to thwart any attacks. He says security has been increased in public transportation stations that could be “soft targets” for terrorists.

“At the main entrances to the public passenger terminals of taxis and buses, there are extra checks of persons, luggage and vehicles,” said Opondo. “We are advising everybody to cooperate with the security measures that have been put in place, so that there is no there is no lapse whatsoever.”

He says the government has launched a media campaign asking the public to be on alert and to contact security officials of any suspicious activities.

“We are making regular radio announcements asking people to be vigilant, particularly if they see suspicious persons or suspicious items [and] to dial the hotlines of the Uganda police force and other security services that are available in their areas of location,” said Opondo.

Al-Shabab has already claimed responsibility for an attack during the 2010 World Cup in Uganda.  The group said it was in response to the country’s military support for AMISOM, the African Union forces in Somalia. Opondo says Uganda will not pullout its troops out of the east African nation despite threats from al-Shabab.

He says security agencies have been able to prevent attempted attacks by the Somali armed group since 2010.

 “We think that the reason they have not succeeded in the recent past is because of the vigilance. The security system has been vigilant, but we must call on the general public to be extra vigilant, because without them there will always be a lapse,” said Opondo.

Critics say the security agencies cannot be trusted since they were not able to prevent the 2010 terrorist attack. Opondo admitted lapses in security in the run up to the attack, but adds that it has improved.

“The attack happened because generally the country had lowered its guard. There were no strict checks in public places at the time. We think because of that and the most recent happening in Kenya, we are calling upon the proprietors of public places and the security personnel they deploy to be extra vigilant,” said Opondo.

Opondo called for international support for the African Union troops to help defeat the Somali terrorist group.

“We are at war with al-Shabab, and we must roll back al-Shabab until they are uprooted and until they have no safe haven anywhere in Somalia or in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Opondo. “The government of Uganda has no intention whatsoever of withdrawing from its engagement with AMISOM in Somalia. So, if the motive of this blackmail is that we withdraw from Somalia, we shall not.”
Clottey interview with Ofwono Opondo, Uganda government spokesman