KAMPALA, Uganda - East Africa saw the emergence of a new international terrorist group, as Somalia's most dangerous al-Qaida-linked militia claimed responsibility for the twin bombings in Uganda that killed 74 people during the World Cup final.
The claim Monday by al-Shabab, whose fighters are trained by militant veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, resets the security equation in East Africa and has broader implications worldwide. The group in the past has recruited Somali-Americans to carry out suicide bombings in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab, an ultraconservative Islamic group that has drawn comparisons to Afghanistan's Taliban, has long threatened to attack outside Somalia's borders, but the bombings late Sunday in Kampala - one at an outdoor screening at a rugby club and the other an Ethiopian restaurant - are the first time the group has done so.
"We warned Uganda not to deploy troops to Somalia; they ignored us," said Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, al-Shabab's spokesman. "We warned them to stop massacring our people, and they ignored that. The explosions in Kampala were only a minor message to them. ... We will target them everywhere if Uganda does not withdraw from our land."
Rage said a second country with peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu - Burundi - could soon face attacks. Fighting in Mogadishu between militants and Somali troops or African Union peacekeepers frequently kills civilians.
The attacks outside Somalia represent a dangerous new step in al-Shabab's increasingly militant path and raises questions about its future plans. The U.S. State Department has declared al-Shabab a terrorist organization. Other neighboring nations - Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, along with Burundi - may also face new attacks, analysts say.
Despite the threats, the army spokesman for Uganda - an overwhelmingly Christian nation - said the county would not withdraw. "Al-Shabab is the reason why we should stay in Somalia. We have to pacify Somalia," Lt. Col. Felix Kulaigye said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama spoke with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday to express his condolences for the loss of life in the bombings. Obama offered to provide any support or assistance needed in Uganda, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Gibbs said that, while the FBI is assisting in the ongoing investigation, the United States believes that there is "no clearer signal of the hateful motives of terrorists than was sent yesterday."
Aid worker from U.S. among dead
A former University of Delaware rugby player who toured U.S. colleges and churches urging people to help children in war-riven Uganda was among the dead. Nate Henn was on a rugby field Sunday in Kampala with some of the children he'd gone to help when he was hit by shrapnel from one of the blasts, Jedidiah Jenkins, a spokesman for the aid group Invisible Children, said. Henn, 25, had spent the last year raising thousands of dollars for children's education. The children called Henn "Oteka," or the strong one, and they "fell in love with Nate's wit, strength, character and steadfast friendship," the San Diego-based group that helps child soldiers said on its website.