KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan authorities are holding 19 suspects arrested over an apparent terror plot, officials said Monday as the security agencies continued an operation to dismantle what they said was an al-Shabab cell plotting attacks in this East African country.
The security agencies arrested up to 19 suspects and seized explosives as well as bomb-making materials in a raid Saturday on a suspected terrorist cell in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, said Polly Namaye, a spokeswoman for Ugandan police.
“We are calling upon owners of businesses, especially entertainment places, to intensify their security,” Namaye said.
All the suspects are of Somali origin and Ugandan police and intelligence officials are interrogating the suspects, said Ugandan military spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda.
The officials gave no more details, saying the operation is ongoing and more suspects could be arrested.
More than a dozen men were arrested at two locations deep inside a slum in Kampala, Abdullahi Hassan Roble, who heads an association of Somalis in Uganda, told The Associated Press Monday. Security officials on Saturday raided a hotel and a flat in the Kisenyi area, known for its large Somali population, in an operation that appeared to target Somalis who had recently moved into the neighbourhood, he said.
“These were new people,” he said of those who were arrested. “I never knew them.”
The U.S. Embassy in Uganda said Monday that a possible terrorist attack had been disrupted. On Saturday the embassy warned U.S. citizens to stay at home overnight because there was an operation to foil a terror plot.
“We believe that the immediate threat of an al-Shabab attack has been effectively countered,” said the embassy statement Monday. “We remain vigilant to the possibility that some of the attack cell could still be at large.” The embassy said it is no longer advising Americans in Uganda to stay at home but urged all to maintain “heightened security awareness.”
Uganda, which has troops fighting al-Shabab in Somalia, has been on high alert amid concerns the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists are plotting an attack similar to the assault on a mall in Kenya a year ago.
In 2010 al-Shabab claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed at least 76 people watching a soccer World Cup final on giant screens in Kampala.
Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sierra Leone have deployed troops to Somalia as part of an African Union force bolstering the country’s weak government against al-Shabab’s insurgency. The African Union troops pushed al-Shabab out of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011. A similar offensive is under way to oust the militants from their remaining strongholds in southern Somalia, where a U.S. airstrike killed al-Shabab’s former spiritual leader earlier this month.
In a week, Kenya will commemorate the anniversary of the Westgate Mall attack in which at least 67 people were killed.
Authorities in Kenya say they are on high alert for possible attacks by al-Shabab as the anniversary approaches.