EVER since the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) launched their first attacks on Uganda in 1996, the organisation has been shrouded in mystery. In the last ten years, they have continued to disappear and re-surface, using different tactics to achieve a political agenda which seems to have only one goal
EVER since the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) launched their first attacks on Uganda in 1996, the organisation has been shrouded in mystery. In the last ten years, they have continued to disappear and re-surface, using different tactics to achieve a political agenda which seems to have only one goal: to overthrow the Government and establish a Muslim state, based on the Islamic Sharia law.
The roots of the ADF go back to the days of Idi Amin. The dictator, who converted to Islam to win Arab support, encouraged many young Muslims to go to Arab countries for Islamic studies. On their return, they started preaching fundamentalist ideas. Their militant character first showed in the 1980s, when they violently occupied mosques dominated by mainstream Muslims.
The climax was the seizure of the headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council at Old Kampala in 1991. During the attack, four policemen who had come to restore order were hacked to death by Muslim youths calling themselves the Tabliqs. Jamil Mukulu, the Pakistan-trained, present ADF leader, was at the forefront of this violence.
The Tabliqs were arrested and imprisoned in Luzira. While in prison, Mukulu continued preaching a radical form of Islam and mobilising for rebellion.
Upon their release in 1993, the youths started the Salaf Sect and established Malkaz Mosque in Katwe, a Kampala suburb, as the centre for their activities.
The mosque became a cover for the recruitment of radical Muslim fighters.
The group first tried to establish a base in Buseruka in Hoima district in 1994, under the umbrella of the Uganda Muslim Freedom Fighters. Their camp, however, was overrun and many rebels were killed.
The survivors fled to Beni in neighbouring Congo, where they merged with the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda and agreed to jointly fight the Government. The ADF was born.
The group received the backing from then Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko. It also got the support from Hassan el Tourabi, the leader of the National Islamic Front in Sudan, who supplied them with arms.
When Laurent Kabilaâ€™s troops attacked the areas of Beni in 1996, the ADF was prematurely forced into action.
In November 1996, hundreds of ADF fighters attacked Uganda and almost took over Kasese town. They tried to seize Kasese airstrip to enable them receive supplies from Kinshasa and Khartoum, but the force was repulsed by the UPDF.
The following year, the ADF commanders sent a force to open bases in Bundibugyo, Kibaale, Kabarole and Mubende districts. From there, they continued to launch attacks, targeting mostly army and police positions, while abducting civilians and looting.
Some of their most notorious attacks included the raid on Kiburara Seminary in Kasese on August 16, 1997, when 19 students were abducted; and on Kichwamba Technical Institute on June 8, 1998, when 49 students were burned alive and 80 others abducted.
In December 1999, the rebels launched a daring raid on Katojo prisons in Kabarole district, freeing 300 prisoners who were on treason charges related to terrorism.
Towards the end of 1999, the ADF attacks reduced as a result of defections and losses at the battlefield. The Ugandan army had destroyed most of their bases in eastern Congo, which resulted into the capture and surrender of many ADF fighters.
Mukulu then changed tactics. From guerrilla warfare, the rebels turned to urban terrorism. At the end of the 1990s, Kampala was startled by a wave of grenade attacks. All in all, 47 home-made bombs exploded in busy down-town areas like Queenâ€™s Way, the New Taxi Park, Speke Hotel, Isabella Pub in Makindye, Owino Market police post, Kabalagala and Nateete, killing a total of 88 people and injuring 268.
Prior to these attacks, the ADF fighters had been trained in bomb-assembling and urban terrorism in Pakistan, Sudan and Kenya. Others got lessons in improvised explosive devices in safe houses in Kampala. At one of those safe houses in Najjanankumbi, a bomb accidentally went off, killing one of the fighters.
The ADF was able to raise funds through businesses, mainly dealing in reconditioned motor-vehicles and used spare parts.
In an effort to fight this form of urban terrorism, the Government set up the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, comprised of all security agencies. The task force arrested 150 suspects involved in the bomb attacks in Kampala and other towns. All of them were charged and remanded in Kigo and Luzira prisons. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2002 provided a legal framework to prosecute them.
Other ADF fighters surrendered under the Amnesty Act. However, many of those who were granted amnesty went back to the bush and some were re-arrested.
On March 23 this year, the ADF resurfaced. Some 100 fighters re-entered from their bases in Congo. They were, however, intercepted by the UPDF and so far 82 have been killed, including their second-in-command Balao Isiko and five other commanders.
The army continues to hunt down the remaining rebels. An estimated 300 to 400 are reportedly still left in Congo.
ADF rebellion: Guerilla to urban terrorism