Uganda: Who are the ADF and are they responsible for recent attacks?

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Wednesday, 17 November 2021 11:59

Uganda Explosions
Security forces walk near the scene of a blast on a street near the parliamentary building in Kampala, Uganda, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi)

The “ADF are responsible for the attack” has been a common phrase in Uganda for the past decade. The militant group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has been blamed for high profile assassinations and recent spates of suicide bombings in the country.

Three suicide bombers detonated two bombs in Kampala on Tuesday 16 November. Six people were killed (three bombers and three victims), while 36 others were injured. The first suicide bomber blew himself up near Central Police Station, the most prominent police station in Kampala, while two suicide bombers riding a motorcycle blew themselves up near parliament. Uganda Police released CCTV footage showing that the bombers blew themselves up.

In less than a month, there have been four bomb attacks in Uganda, even though security agencies say they have foiled many more. For instance, on Tuesday, Uganda Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga said security agencies had pursued a forth suicide bomber, who was shot and injured. An unexploded  improvised explosive device was recovered from the injured attacker, while another was recovered from his home in Nansana, a town neighbouring Kampala.

ADF to blame?

Police blame ADF for the attack. In a statement, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni also blamed the ADF for the attacks. He released names of suicide bombers who have been killed since August, arguing that such attackers are part of a larger group that attempted to assassinate General Katumba Wamala in June 2021.

“All these are part of the ADF group that attacked Gen. Katumba in June. As I told the country before, by attacking Gen. Katumba, these terrorists exposed themselves at a time when our security (anti-crime) infrastructure has improved,” Museveni said.

According to Museveni, suicide bombers are “manipulated victims of confusion.” He said: “The real pigs are people like Nsubuga, the so-called Sheikh that confused young people at Lweza. If blowing oneself up will send one to Jaanaa, let him blow himself up as an example instead of manipulating young children.”

Who are they and where do they come from? Where have they been living? Who equipped them with skills to make bombs and when? And were they really sanctioned by ADF or IS to carry out the attacks?

Lweza is located on Entebbe road, 10km from Kampala city centre. Little is known about Sheikh Nsubuga, who Museveni is blaming for radicalising young people to take part in terrorism.

The Islamic State (IS), which says it has fused with the ADF, has claimed responsibility for the October and Tuesday suicide attacks in Uganda. However, security agencies and Museveni hardly mention IS in their statements and reports.

Who are the ADF?

The ADF was formed in the mid 1990s, with Jamil Mukulu as its leader. It operated in parts of Rwenzori region in western Uganda until early 2001, when it was pushed-back by the Uganda army to parts of North Kivu, in the Eastern Democratic of Congo (DRC). It has been operating from there for the last two decades.

The group launched armed attacks in the Rwenzori region in Uganda in 2007, but was quickly defeated again by the Ugandan army. The Uganda government and ADF rebels also held peace talks in 2008, but this did not result in a ceasefire or the group’s disbandment.

In Eastern DRC, the ADF kept a low profile until the mid 2010s, when it began aggressive attacks in North Kivu. There had been reports of the ADF recruiting fighters in Uganda between 2010 and 2015. The group’s founding leader, Jamil Mukulu, was arrested in 2015 in Tanzania and extradited to Uganda where he is facing terrorism related charges.

Rebel leader of the Ugandan ADF Jamil Mukulu is escorted by prison wardens as he appears at a magistrates court to challenge extradition proceedings against him, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 22 May 2015 AP Photo/Khalfan Said, File)

The ADF is now considered the most lethal rebel group in Eastern DRC. It carried out 18 attacks in October, with a victim tally of 94, according to data from Kivu Security Tracker, an organisation that maps violence in the region.

Musa Seka Baluku and the IS connection

Mukulu was succeeded by 45 year-old Musa Seka Baluku, a Mukonjo from Rwenzori mountain in Kasese district, western Uganda. Baluku is said to have been among the group’s original recruits in mid 1990s.

It is Baluku who has moved closer to IS. Talk of an IS-ADF connection started in 2019, when Baluku pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. In March 2021, the US State Department declared ADF a terrorist organisation and said the group had rebranded itself as Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) or ISIS-DRC.

As ISIS claims responsibility for suicide attacks in Uganda, including the Tuesday attack, ADF has remained mute. Little is known about the extent of ADF’s connection with IS, both in terms of training, operations coordination and propaganda. This remains a puzzle among researchers: while some argue that the connection has been cemented, others say it is still loose.

Bottom line

Apart from the IS-ADF connection question, many other questions remain unanswered about attacks in Uganda. All attacks that have occurred were conducted by Ugandans, according to security agencies, and the bombs used were locally made.

Nothing is known about the suicide bombers themselves beyond the names that were released by Museveni on Tuesday evening. Who are they and where do they come from? Where have they been living? Who equipped them with skills to make bombs and when? And were they really sanctioned by ADF or IS to carry out the attacks?

Since August 2021, after Ugandan security agencies claimed to have foiled the first suicide bomber, they have not answered any of these pressing questions apart from consistently repeating that the “ADF is responsible.”

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