BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Burundi and Uganda have beefed up security and are closely monitoring Somalis living in their countries after hardline rebel group al Shabaab threatened to attack the east African countries’ capitals.
Al Shabaab, which Washington says has links to al Qaeda, said last week it would strike Kampala and Bujumbura in revenge for deadly rocket attacks in Somalia’s capital by African peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi.
The two countries both have some 2,500 peacekeepers in Mogadishu with the African Union’s AMISOM force which is protecting key sites and the fragile Western-backed government.
“We took the threat seriously, that is why we decided to reinforce controls of movements at all entrance points and inside the country,” said Pierre Channel Ntarabaganyi, interim spokesman for Burundi’s public security ministry.
“This includes borders and the Bujumbura international airport,” he told reporters late on Monday, urging the population to be vigilant and report suspicious people.
Burundi has lost 24 soldiers in Somalia since it first deployed, including the deputy force commander who was killed when al Shabaab struck at the heart of the AMISOM headquarters with twin car suicide bombs.
In Uganda, Somali community leaders said they met Ugandan intelligence officials after the threat to discuss security measures and were in the process of registering the some 15,000 Somalis living in the country.
“(We) offered our support to help deter any attacks by the al Shabaab elements. Even amongst ourselves we’ve decided to increase vigilance for suspicious characters,” said Hussein Hassan Hariire, leader of the Somali community in Uganda.
Al Shabaab has also threatened to attack Kenya’s capital Nairobi, where there is a thriving Somali community. There are also some 300,000 Somalis living in refugee camps in Kenya.
Uganda’s military spokesman declined to comment on reports security officials had met with Somali community leaders.
“Terrorism is always and remains a real threat in this region and we’re constantly vigilant against infiltration by wrong elements,” said Felix Kulayigye. “But yes, we certainly need the cooperation of the every one in Uganda.”
Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala; Editing by David Clarke