Af­ter Uganda attacks, new fears about ter­ror group’s ex­pan­sion

Austin American-Statesman - - TUESDAYBRIEFING -

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.

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