Kampala blast: Suspects await justice

2011-07-11 11:41

Kampala - One year after suicide bombers struck two bars in the Ugandan capital and killed 76 people, survivors are still struggling to recover while detained suspects have yet to face trial.

On the night of July 11 2010, attackers wearing explosives-laden jackets sneaked into crowds watching the World Cup final and minutes to the end of the match, unleashed East Africa's worst bombings in 12 years.

Twenty-four year-old Ramadan survived the blast at Kampala's Ethiopian Village pub-restaurant - one of the two attack sites - which claimed the life of his brother Siraj.

"My brother had fallen down as if he was sleeping. I was lying on his stomach and I tried to wake him," said Ramadan. "I am still asking myself how come he died and me, I am still alive."

The brothers had passed up several bars and settled on the Ethiopian Village restaurant after Siraj managed to squeeze into one of the few remaining seats in front of a giant screen. Ramadan sat on the ground between his brother's legs.

"The investigation should have been done already because it is already one year. I need those people to be taken to face the judge," Ramadan said.

Uganda has detained 36 suspects in the blast which was claimed by Somalia's Shabaab Islamist insurgents. Authorities are yet to begin a full trial against the suspects who have been behind bars for nearly a year now.

They face charges of terrorism, murder and attempted murder. They were last in court in November.

Rights activists and families of the suspects have blamed Uganda over its handling of the case, alleging illegal extraditions, abuses, inexplicable delays and political interference.

No credible investigation

But Joan Kagezi, Uganda's international crimes division chief prosecutor, denied that the judiciary was sluggish over the case and said the next hearing could be in August.

"Going by Ugandan standards, this case has really been fast tracked because other cases can take two or three years," Kagezi told AFP.

Among the detainees is Kenyan human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi who was arrested in September last year while in Kampala to hear the cases against Kenyan suspects in the bombing.

Rights groups and the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association have called for Kimathi's release on grounds that his arrest was arbitrary, but Kampala has rejected those calls.

Kimathi's brother, Onesmus Murithi Imanene, said the case is politically motivated and charged that Kampala and Nairobi were colluding to stop Kimathi's work.

"There was no credible investigation as far as my brother is concerned. The whole issue is political," said Imanene.

"Even though the government of Uganda says that they are letting the law take its course, I believe this is a political issue," he added, citing his brother's campaign against illegal rendition of suspects by the Kenyan government in 2007.

The al-Qaeda-inspired Shabaab said the bombings were in retaliation for Uganda's role in the African Union force propping up the transitional Somali government the rebels are fighting to topple.

Uganda provides the backbone of the 9 000-strong AU force which is also made up of Burundian troops.

The Shabaab vowed more attacks after the Kampala bombings, warning regional countries over their support for Somalia's weak government.