By Vision reporter
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has warned Islamist rebels who threatened to attack Kampala that they will pay a heavy price if they did so.
â€œThose groups, I would advise them to concentrate on solving their own problems. If they decide to attack us, they will pay heavily because we know how to deal with those who attack us,â€ he told journalists at the end of the African Union summit in Kampala yesterday.
He warned that Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia would pursue and attack al Shabaab rebels if they acted on their threat.
â€œIn Mogadishu we are not active, we are just monitoring. If they say they want to come and kill people in Kampala like they are killing in Somalia, we know where to get them.â€
Museveni was reacting to a statement by hardline al Shabaab insurgents who vowed to strike the capitals of Uganda and Burundi in revenge for rocket attacks that killed at least 30 people in Mogadishu on Thursday.
â€œWe shall make their people cry. Weâ€™ll attack Bujumbura and Kampala. We will move our fighting to those two cities and we shall destroy them,â€ Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, a senior al Shabaab commander, told reporters late on Thursday in Mogadishu.
Burundi and Uganda both have about 2,500 peacekeepers in the Somali capital as part of the African Unionâ€™s force, dubbed AMISOM.
Reuters witnesses said the peacekeepers fired at least 35 rockets into the capitalâ€™s Bakara market area on Thursday after al Shabaab gunmen there launched mortar shells at President Sheikh Sharif Ahmedâ€™s plane as he left the airport for the AU summit in Kampala.
â€œPresident Sharif Ahmed was boarding the plane when a hail of mortar shells rained down on the area,â€ police officer Ali Abdullahi told AFP.
AU peacekeepers are said to have fired back in retaliation. But AMISOM spokesman in Mogadishu, Major Barigye Ba-hoku, has denied that the AU soldiers fired any artillery. â€œWe did not shell any place ... We are investigating and the Somali government is investigating too,â€ Ba-hoku said.
He blamed Thursdayâ€™s civilian deaths on rebel bombs. â€œAl Shabaab wants to drag us into their war. They shell us and then they also shell Bakara, then they tell people there it was AMISOM who killed civilians. We know their tactics.â€
The rebel group, which wants to topple the Somalia government and impose its own strict version of Islamic law across the country, is accused of being al Qaedaâ€™s proxy in Somalia.
Asked for a reaction, Gen. David Tinyefuza, the coordinator of the intelligence agencies, said they take the threat serious. â€œThe threat is realâ€, he told Saturday Vision yesterday. â€œIt is not a new threat. Uganda has been a target for international terrorists since 1990. Our involvement in Somalia has only raised the stakes and intensified the threat.â€
He recalled that rebel groups like ADF and LRA were sponsored by international terrorist groups in Sudan and other countries.
â€œSome ADF rebels had been trained in Afghanistan.â€
He also recalled that the US embassy in Kampala was supposed to be attacked on August 7, 1998, the same day the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed. â€œIt was supposed to be a triple attack. We just prevented it.â€
Not only al Shabaab is planning terrorist attacks on Ugandan soft targets, Tinyefuza noted. â€œAll those terrorist groups aligned to al Qaeda have been planning and infiltrating. We have been monitoring them and arresting some people.â€
Asked which measures Uganda was taking to counter the threats, Tinyefuza said they were three-fold and involved coordination with western allies.
â€œWe are strengthening the capability of security systems â€“ detection, surveillance and reaction. We are also intensifying coordination and information exchange with our international allies.â€
Ugandaâ€™s legal system, he said, was supportive of such measures since the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed.
â€œThe third component is mobilisation. Public awareness is the most effective weapon against terrorism.â€
He noted that the Police had been issuing terror alerts to the general public, transport organisations as well as hotels.
â€œWe donâ€™t take any chances. The threat is real. We need to strengthen our capability to adequately neutralise that threat.â€
Western security agencies say Somalia has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who use it to plot attacks across the region and beyond. Thursdayâ€™s clashes were some of the heaviest to rock Mogadishu for weeks, and they underlined the difficulties facing the 5,000-strong AU mission.
While winning some hearts and minds by giving residents access to clean water and free medical treatment, AMISOM has been unable to do much more than secure the cityâ€™s airport, sea port, presidential palace and a few roads in between.
Its soldiers come under near-daily attacks from roadside bombs and rebel artillery, and last month al Shabaab hit their main headquarters with a twin suicide car bombing that killed 17 peacekeepers, including the Burundian deputy force commander.
â€œWe do not take their threats lightly,â€ said also Ba-hoku. â€œAny attempt to attack Burundi or Uganda will be met with decisive action and will be defeated ... If we get enough troops here, we can move into other regions and bring peace to all of Somalia.â€
Several African nations had committed to send troops to reinforce AMISOM, which needs 8,000 soldiers to secure Mogadishu alone, but have so far failed.