By Steven Candia and Simon Masaba
Following a deadly terrorist attack in Kenya, the Uganda Police have taken over security at key public places, especially shopping malls in Kampala.
Security has also been beefed up in Malaba and Busia border areas.
The Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, who was over the weekend reportedly following the developments of the terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping mall, said it was important to tighten security at public places to avert a similar attack.
“What has happened in Kenya is very unfortunate and can happen anywhere. As such, we are now going to take over the security of many of these places,” Kayihura said, adding that he had already communicated with his Kenyan counterpart David Mwole Kimaiyo to express his solidarity with them.
By Sunday, the Police and other security agencies had beefed up security with more deployment of uniform and plain cloths security operatives in many public places, including supermarkets and shopping malls.
Since July 2010, Uganda has maintained tight security in Kampala and other towns, with the Police issuing terror alerts regularly. The Somali Islamist al-Shabaab terrorists in July 2010 carried out twin terror attacks that claimed over 80 lives and left over 50 others injured.
The al-Shabaab have repeatedly warned of attacks against countries which have troops serving under the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Uganda has the biggest contingent in Somalia. The Kenyan incident, Kayihura said, is an eye opener about the real threat posed by terrorists.
“When we issue alerts, members of public should not take them for granted. The threats are still real,” he said, noting with dismay the lax security at many public places, especially big supermarkets. “It is not because of the Kenyan incident that we are moving, but these plans have been underway,” Kayihura said and called for increased vigilance from the public.
“Our real strength to deter such incidents and defeat these criminals lies in active community policing,” he said. “Our personnel shall not be caught flat-footed. We have been prepared for some time and we thank the public for the continued vigilance,” Kampala Metropolitan Police commander, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, said Sunday.
“The Police shall not only deploy at shopping malls,” Kaweesi said, adding: “At the time Westgate Mall was attacked, another market in Mogadishu was reportedly attacked. These are coordinated. So the Police and their sister security agencies will be on the lookout everywhere.”
“Always be suspicious of strange people and objects, armed or unarmed. It is because of this that Uganda has continued to survive,” he said adding that all malls need to have outlets where hostages in such situations can be guided through.
During the Saturday attack in Nairobi, masked gunmen stormed Westgate Mall, an upmarket shopping centre, killing 59 and injuring over 175, a massacre claimed by the al-Shabaab.
The mall is popular with foreign nationals as well as wealthy Kenyans. Kenya’s interior minister Joseph Ole Lenku yesterday told reporters that the government believed there were between 10 and 15 attackers and that they were investigating their identity.
The minister said over 1,000 hostages had been rescued. Several foreigners, including a Canadian diplomat, were among the dead. By Sunday night, an unknown number of hostages were believed to be still inside the mall.
The assault was the biggest single attack in Kenya since al-Qaeda’s East Africa cell bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people and leaving scores injured. In 2002, the same militant cell attacked an Israeli-owned hotel at the coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli jet.