After Uganda attacks, new fears about terror group’s expansion
WASHINGTON — The deadly bombings in Uganda during the World Cup final have deepened worries among U.S. authorities about another oncelocalized Islamic group that is spreading its terrorism across borders, using a playbook written by al Qaeda.
The Shabab claimed responsibility for the coordinated bomb attacks Sunday that tore through crowds in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, killing at least 70 people, including a U.S. aid worker. The synchronized attacks bore the hallmarks of an al Qaeda strike, a senior U.S. official said Monday, suggesting that the Shabab got support or at least inspiration from al Qaeda and its affiliates in East Africa.
Analysts and officials said the emergence of the Shabab on the world stage fit a pattern of localized Islamic militant groups that have been able to mount sophisticated operations farther and farther afield, including the attempt by an al Qaeda-linked group to blow up a plane on its way to Detroit on Dec. 25. The bombings also illustrate how the region has become a hive of Islamic militancy, complicating the efforts of the U.S., which has thrown its support behind Somalia’s embattled transitional government.
“This was a localized cancer, but the cancer has metastasized into a regional crisis,” said Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “It is a crisis that has bled across borders and is now infecting the international community.”
The Shabab has been in the cross hairs of intelligence and counterterrorism officials for years. But the group’s growing force and alliances with a shifting array of Somali warlords have posed a vexing challenge for the Obama administration’s efforts to bolster Somalia’s weak government and stabilize the country.
A senior intelligence official said the U.S. thinks it is mainly focused on fighting the Somali government and those who support it, not the West.
“Shabab is emerging as one of these archetypal 21st-century terrorist groups,” said Bruce Hoffman, an expert in counterterrorism at Georgetown University.