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Arrests made in bomb attacks on World Cup fans in Uganda

The twin bombings in Kampala killed at least 74 people watching the World Cup final on television, marking the first major international attack by al-Shabab.

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By Sudarsan Raghavan
Tuesday, July 13, 2010; 7:30 PM

KAMPALA, UGANDA -- Police have made several arrests in connection with the twin bombings Sunday that killed 76 people watching the World Cup final, Ugandan officials said Tuesday. Investigators also unearthed an unexploded suicide vest in a disco, suggesting that the Somali militants believed to be responsible for Sunday's deadly attacks had planned to bomb a third venue.

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The vest contained lines of ball bearings, similar to material found after the bombings at an Ethiopian restaurant and a rugby club, which occurred as hundreds of boisterous fans were watching the championship match between Spain and the Netherlands, police officials said. The discovery of the vest led investigators to believe that the explosions here were carried out by suicide bombers and that the attacks were orchestrated.

"What we found here is consistent with what we found on both scenes of crime. And so this is a very significant lead in our investigation," Kale Kayihura, Uganda's inspector general of police, told reporters.

The tan vest, along with a white packet of explosives, a black carrying bag and detonator wires, were displayed on a table in front of him. Kayihura said the discovery of the vest suggested that there was a third bomber involved in the plot who had planned to attack the disco, but had become "a coward" and did not detonate his explosives.

Kayihura did not provide the number of those arrested, but hinted that at least two were of Somali origin. He also raised the death toll from Sunday's explosions from 74 to 76. An American was killed, and a teenaged girl from Ellicott City, Md. was among several U.S. citizens who were wounded.

Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militia claimed responsibility for the explosions, saying they were in retaliation for the presence in Somalia of Ugandan and Burundian troops who form an African Union peacekeeping force that backs Somalia's weak transitional government. It was al-Shabab's first major transnational attack, triggering fears that Somalia's civil war could destabilize a region where Islamic militancy is growing.

Al-Shabab has vowed to wage more attacks on Uganda, as well as Burundi, if they do not withdraw their troops from Somalia. Ugandan military officials have declared they would not pull out of the peacekeeping force, and instead would bolster their efforts against al-Shabab.

In the wake of Sunday's attacks, however, opposition politicians are urging President Yoweri Museveni to withdraw the troops from Somalia.

"This is a wake-up call for Uganda to realize that what our military does abroad has consequences at home," said Norbert Mao, president of Uganda's Democratic Party. Mao, who plans to run for the presidency of Uganda in the 2011 general elections, said other African countries are not contributing enough to the peacekeeping force.

"If everybody does not pull their true weight, there's no reason for us to get stuck in Somalia in a quagmire," Mao said.

Senior Obama administration officials said Tuesday that they had increased their focus on al-Shabab, particularly given its affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and they raised the possibility that the group had ambitions to attack within the United States. U.S. authorities did not have any advanced warning of the attack, they said.

Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut in Washington contributed to this report.


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