Explosions tore through crowds watching the World Cup final at a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala, Uganda – killing at least 64 people including an American aid worker – and injuring several people from a church group in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, officials said. Selinsgrove is just north of Harrisburg.
Kris Sledge, 18, was one of the church members hurt.
"I remember blacking out, hearing people screaming and running,” Sledge said from the hospital. His right leg was wrapped and he had burns on his face. “I love the place here but I’m wondering why this happened and who did this ... At this point we’re just glad to be alive.”
Police feared an al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group was behind the attacks. Ugandan government spokesman Fred Opolot said Monday that there were indications that two suicide bombers may have taken part in the attacks late Sunday that left nearly 60 others wounded.
The blasts went off as people watched the game between Spain and the Netherlands late Sunday. The attack on the rugby club, where crowds sat outside watching a large-screen TV, left 49 dead, police said. Fifteen others were killed in the restaurant explosion.
Kampala’s police chief said he believed Somalia’s most feared militant group, al-Shabab, could be responsible for the attack. Al-Shabab is known to have links with al-Qaida, and it counts militant veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan conflicts among its ranks. Simultaneous attacks are also one of al-Qaida’s hallmarks. The U.S. State Department has designated al-Shabab a terrorist organization.
If those suspicions prove true, it would be the first time that al-Shabab has carried out attacks outside of Somalia.
Invisible Children, a San Diego, California-based aid group that helps child soldiers, identified the dead American as one of its workers, Nate Henn, who was killed on the rugby field.
“From traveling the United States without pay advocating for the freedom of abducted child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s war, to raising thousands of dollars to put war-affected Ugandan students in school, Nate lived a life that demanded explanation. He sacrificed his comfort to live in the humble service of God and of a better world, and his is a life to be emulated,” the group said in a statement on its website.
Uganda’s government spokesman said the first blast occurred at the Ethiopian Village restaurant at 10:55 p.m. Two more blasts happened at the rugby field 20 minutes later, he said.
Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a longtime enemy of al-Shabab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbor of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia from December 2006 to January 2009 to back Somalia’s fragile government against the Islamic insurgency. Ethiopia later withdrew its troops under an intricate peace deal mediated by the United Nations.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, Sheik Yusuf Sheik Issa, an al-Shabab commander, told The Associated Press early Monday that he was happy with the attacks in Uganda. Issa refused to confirm or deny that al-Shabab was responsible for the bombings.
“Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah’s anger be upon those who are against us,” Sheik said.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. was prepared to provide any necessary assistance to the Ugandan government.
President Barack Obama was “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks,” Vietor said.