Detained prisoner says Uganda World Cup bombings were meant to kill more Americans

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The confessed mastermind of bomb attacks against World Cup soccer fans said Thursday he had hoped to kill many more Americans in the explosions in which 76 people, including one American, died last month.

Reporters learned at a press conference in which four arrested suspects appeared that the death toll from the three explosions would have been much higher if one of them hadn't backed out at the last minute. Haruna Luyima, the younger brother of the confessed plotter, said he had been tasked with planting a fourth device at a dance hall.

"But when I reached there I wondered why so many people watching football on television should be killed over nothing," the 27-year-old said.

At the news conference organized by Ugandan officials, Luyima said he placed the laptop bag containing the bomb in a flower bed and fled without detonating it. Officials found it the day after the July 11 attacks on crowds of people watching the World Cup final on TV.

Al-Shabab, a militant Somali group with links to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the attacks and said it targeted Uganda because Ugandan troops belonging to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia have killed Somali civilians.

Isah Ahmed Luyima said he masterminded the bombings and recruited his younger brother and a friend to help. A fourth man in custody who claims to be a member of al-Qaida allegedly made mistakes in the planning and was sidelined. All four men are in custody.

Luyima, a 33-year-old Ugandan and former university librarian, said he joined al-Shabab insurgents in 2009 and fought alongside other foreign fighters against the AU peacekeepers who are protecting the beleaguered U.N.-backed government in Somalia.

Most of the dead in the bombings in Kampala were Ugandans watching the final game of the World Cup. All four have admitted to taking part in the attack, according to Ugandan officials.

"I targeted places where many Americans go," the elder Luyima said. "I was made to believe that Americans were responsible for the suffering of Muslims all over the world."

He said he also targeted Ugandan civilians because he had been told by his commanders in al-Shabab that Ugandan soldiers in the AU peacekeeping force were killing Somali civilians.

Western intelligence agencies are deeply concerned over al-Shabab and the growth of Islamist extremism in East Africa. Several Somali-Americans have also joined al-Shabab, posing a potential threat to the United States.

Another of the detainees, a 24-year-old Rwandan named Muhamud Mugisha, said he fought with al-Shabab militia but returned home after becoming ill. He said he was recruited by al-Qaida in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2008 and initially headed the July 11 plot but was sidelined after he failed to follow instructions regarding the rental of a safe house.

That was when Luyima claims to have taken over, choosing to target a restaurant and a rugby club frequented by foreigners to maximize American casualties. Luyima said he also instructed two suicide bombers, a Somali and a Kenyan. Luyima's friend Edirisa Nsubuga confessed to remotely setting off a second explosion at the rugby club.

At Thursday's press conference, the men apologized and said they had not been tortured into confessing. The Ugandan armed forces are frequently criticized by human rights groups for their treatment of prisoners.

"I am sorry about what happened. I extend my sincere apology to the families of people who died," Isah Ahmed Luyima said.

Mugisha said more bombings could occur and that Kenyan police had aided the plotters.

"Kenyan policemen, especially the Somali tribe, helped us to cross from Somalia to Kenya, and from Kenya to Uganda. I am sure they knew who we were. Our bosses communicated to them and they easily let us through," he said.

A Kenyan police spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, said Kenyan anti-terrorism police had monitored the news conference and that the allegations are "of great interest to us." He would not comment further.

Mugisha said at one point he had been detained at the Kenya-Uganda border and was taken to the Kenyan capital in custody when "one of our bosses rung a senior police officer there. The officer drove me to the border and assisted me to go through the border."

Kenya's police force is notoriously corrupt. Proof that Kenyan police aided the bombers would alarm Western nations like the U.S. and Britain who provide substantial amounts of training and equipment to the Kenyans. Most of it is aimed at helping counter the threat of terrorism from Somalia.