President Yoweri Museveni visited the bomb sites Monday morning and condemned the attacks, calling the terrorists “backwards and cowardly.”
“If they want to fight they should find soldiers, not attack people who are just enjoying themselves,” he said. “We shall look for them and get them, wherever they are.”
Police officials said they had not ruled out suicide bombers in the attack and roads throughout Kampala were closed off as American and Ugandan security officers inspected the sites.
The bombs exploded at 10:30 p.m. local time in the middle of the match between Spain and the Netherlands under way in South Africa, with at least three explosions hitting a popular Ethiopian garden restaurant and a large rugby field in a different Kampala neighborhood where hundreds of people had massed to watch the game. More than 70 people were injured.
Joan Lockard, a spokeswoman at the American Embassy in Kampala, confirmed that at least one American was killed and Judith Nabakooba, a police spokeswoman, said the dead included an Indian, Ethiopian and Congolese nationals.
Ugandan police officials said they suspected that the Shabab, a militant Islamic group in nearby Somalia, might have been behind the bombings. If so, it would be that group’s first attack outside Somalia. But the police said it was premature to draw conclusions.
“We can’t rule anything out,” said Kale Kayihura, Uganda’s police inspector general, at the scene of one of the attacks. “This was obviously terrorism, from the way it was targeted at World Cup watchers in public places.”
The Shabab, one of the more fearsome militias vying for power in Somalia, ban music, dancing and sports, have links to Al Qaeda and have repeatedly threatened targets in Uganda as well as in Burundi because both countries contribute to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, a lawless nation in the Horn of Africa.
The police said other suspects were former rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo with connections to Uganda.
The Ugandan capital is relatively safe and relaxed compared with other big cities in Africa, and such bombings are extremely rare. But the city turned tense and fearful early on Monday, as military vehicles and ambulances screeched through the streets and Kampala’s bars and clubs emptied.
At the Ethiopian restaurant that was attacked, an outdoor cafe with lawn tables known as the Ethiopian Village, soldiers and onlookers watched side by side as rescue crews extracted the dead and the wounded from the wreckage. The police said the bomb appeared to have been placed under a dining table where a group of foreigners, including some Americans, had been sitting.
At least 15 people were killed in that blast, police officials and witnesses said.
“It was so loud,” said a woman named Mami, one of the owners of the restaurant, which had become popular with soccer fans because it showed the games on an outdoor screen. “I am so confused. My God. My God. My God.”
At the rugby field where fans had gone to watch the final game on a large screen, the police and witnesses said they counted at least 44 bodies. Lines of chairs had been blown apart. One middle-aged woman sat dead, her head hung back, blood dripping.
“We were just watching football when the two bombs went off,” said Brian Bomakech, a Ugandan fan at the field. “So many people were hurt, so many people have died.”
In Mogadishu, the Somali capital, Sheik Yusuf Sheik Issa, a Shabab commander, told radio stations that he was happy with the attacks in Uganda but refused to confirm or deny responsibility by the Shabab.
“Uganda is one of our enemies,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying. “Whatever makes them cry, makes us happy. May Allah’s anger be upon those who are against us.”
The bombings came two days after another Shabab commander, Sheik Muktar Robow, called during Friday prayers in Somalia for militants to attack sites in Uganda and Burundi.
In Washington, a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said late Sunday that the United States was prepared to provide assistance to Uganda.
“The president is deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks, and sends his condolences to the people of Uganda and the loved ones of those who have been killed or injured,” he said.
A landlocked nation close to many of Africa’s most troubled regions, Uganda has remained relatively aloof from the terrorism that has visited other parts of East Africa, notably in the bombings of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 and attacks on Israelis on the Kenyan coast in 2002.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Uganda fought a campaign against insurgents calling themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army, which fielded thousands of soldiers. But in recent years the group has degenerated into a band of several hundred living deep in the bush in Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic.
The United States has providing the Ugandan Army with millions of dollars’ worth of aid — including fuel, trucks, satellite phones, night-vision goggles and contracted air support — to hunt the fighters down.