The United States said Monday that the twin bomb attacks in Uganda attributed to Somali al-Shabab militants have backfired, only strengthening Uganda's commitment to Somali peacekeeping. U.S. agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, are assisting Ugandan authorities in their probe of Sunday attacks on World Cup viewing venues that killed 74 people.
State Department officials said that evidence supports the stated claim of the Somali militant group al-Shabab that it staged the deadly attacks in Kampala. They also said, however, the bombings that killed dozens of people at two sites hosting television viewers of the World Cup final failed to shake Uganda's determination to continue its lead in the African Union force in Mogadishu.
The United States has provided peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi with light weapons, training and logistical support for the mission in Mogadishu, which has helped Somalia's Transitional Federal Government fend off the military challenge from al-Shabab.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, telephoned Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni after the bombings to reiterate U.S. support in the face of what he called the "cold-blooded murder" of innocent civilians.
Crowley said the Ugandan leader told Carson that Uganda remains committed to the mission in Mogadishu, which he said constitutes the strongest possible retort to al-Shabab and its "narrow, violent vision of the future" for Somalia.
"If Al-Shabab's intent in orchestrating this was to somehow weaken Uganda's resolve, every indication we have says the opposite," said Crowley. "Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson [and] our ambassador in Kampala have both spoken to President Museveni in the past 24 hours. He is determined to continue Uganda's constructive action, both in Somalia and elsewhere in the region. So if this was somehow aimed at punishing or weakening Uganda's resolve, we think that this has backfired."
A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said the fact al-Shabab was able to send agents to Kampala for the attacks might signal a change in tactics by the group, but that does not alter the U.S. view of the threat posed by the al-Qaida affiliated group.
Spokesman Crowley said a three-member team from the FBI is already in Kampala assisting in the investigation and that another FBI team is on standby to render assistance, if needed. He said two State Department diplomatic security officers were also en route to the Ugandan capital.
The spokesman confirmed that an aid worker from a U.S. non-governmental organization was among those killed and that five American citizens were wounded in the attacks, two of them seriously.
Crowley said the United States will be represented at the African Union summit next week in Kampala, which the Ugandan government says will be held as planned, despite the bombings. The situation in Somalia is expected to be a key agenda item.