A group of Americans on a short-term mission from Pennsylvania gathered in an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala, Uganda, on July 11. They had decided to prolong their Uganda trip to finish building a wall around the church and school they helped support. But then an explosion ripped through the restaurant.
The al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al Shabaab took credit for the bombings-one in the restaurant and another at a rugby club-that killed 76 people and wounded others. The Americans at the restaurant sustained burns, shrapnel wounds, and broken limbs. One young man ended up with his eye swollen shut from the shrapnel. The pastor they were helping-Peter Mutabazi of Bwaise Pentecostal Church-died in the bombing, leaving behind a wife, five children, a church, and a school with a new wall around it.
It's not the first time Al Shabaab has slain Christians, aid workers, or humanitarians. The United States has been monitoring the group, an Islamic terrorist group in Somalia, since it was designated a terrorist group in 2008. It has disrupted humanitarian aid to Somalia and assassinated peace-keeping troops, aid workers, and journalists. This is the first time Al Shabaab has spread its terror beyond Somalia, but its methods in Uganda are in keeping with its history of violence toward innocents and civilians.
The UN sanctioned the group earlier this year, and in April President Barack Obama issued an executive order freezing the group's assets, saying the acts of violence "constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."
The Kampala blasts killed one American, Nate Henn, an aid worker with Invisible Children whose Ugandan nickname was "Oteka," meaning "The Strong One." Henn was at the rugby field watching the game with his Ugandan friends and another worker for Invisible Children, a group involved in protecting youth from the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda. His friends rushed him to the hospital, where he fell unconscious and died. In a statement, Invisible Children said that during Henn's trip, "he wrote home about being in the best days of his life."
Rob Smith, CEO of Earthwise Ferries Uganda, learned of the bombs when two of his investors emailed him the next day expressing their concerns. Two of his employees were close to the rugby stadium and heard the blast rattle the windows of their house. They thought it was thunder at first-then noticed it wasn't raining. People at the restaurant reported later that the explosion hurled severed body parts and shrapnel through the restaurant. Smith's business partner transported two of the injured to Kampala International Hospital.
The day after the bombing, Smith passed both of the ravaged sites, where police had cordoned off the access roads. He had coffee in a usually crowded, Somali-owned coffee shop that was now deserted. The town is normally alive with tourists at night, but Smith said the "town was rather quiet and subdued the following day." As of July 13, he said life seemed to have achieved an uneasy normalcy, judging from the traffic jams.
Smith said every time he comes to Uganda, the planes are full of people coming for short-term mission trips and volunteer trips. With terrorist groups leaving dead humanitarians in their wake, he's afraid that charity may diminish.