Death toll rises to 64 in Uganda bombings

The death toll from bombings in Uganda rose to at least 64, authorities said Monday, a day after explosions ripped through two venues where crowds were watching the World Cup.

At least 71 people were hospitalized, police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said.

The casualties included one American death, the U.S. Embassy said. At least six others were wounded.

Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, called the attacks “deplorable and cowardly.”

He said the United States is ready to provide assistance to Ugandan officials.

The blasts hit in the capital, Kampala, within 50 minutes of each other. The first one struck an Ethiopian restaurant in a neighborhood dotted with bars and popular among expatriates; two were at a rugby sports center.

A senior Ugandan government official confirmed there were three bombs. The second one at the rugby club was the most severe, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Stone Atwine was watching the game at the rugby center when the blast occurred.

“It happened toward the 90th minute of the game … this loud explosion,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening, we were running around, scampering for safety. I saw dead guys still seated in their chairs with blood.”

Atwine said a second explosion struck the venue seconds later, and turned off the lights.

“At that point, we ran off. My friends and I ran into the car and drove off.”

Relatives flocked to hospitals and mortuaries to look for loved ones Monday.

“I was watching the game with my brother at the rugby center,” said Ian Lule, who was among a group gathered at a city hospital. “The blast left him unconscious. I don’t know how he is.”

In the capital, crowds huddled around newspapers, talking in hushed tones.

“Everyone is shocked, everyone is talking about it,” said Mark Keith Muhumuza, who was watching the game at a stadium near the rubgy center explosion. “We were in panic mode at the stadium because we thought we would be attacked next.”

Muhumuza said when the game ended, he went to the rugby center.

“People were wailing, some were trying to find their relatives, others were trying to run away from the scene.”

The sites of the bombings remained cordoned off as authorities intensified security in the east African nation. Police and military forces patrolled the capital.

“We have more security forces, and are asking everyone to be cautious,” Nabakooba said. “We are also asking people to avoid large crowds, but the most important thing is to be cautious.”

Some of the injured at the restaurant included six members of an American church mission working with a local congregation, according to the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor of Christ Community United Methodist Church in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

All the church members were accounted for and families had been contacted, Kind said. Their injuries ranged from broken bones and flesh wounds to temporary blindness and hearing problems, she said.

Nabakooba called the bombings “definite acts of terrorism.”

Islamic militants battling Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional government have threatened attacks on Uganda and Burundi, which contribute troops to an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

“Our first suspicion is that this could be the work of terrorists from Somalia because of our forces in that country,” the Ugandan government official said. “There is an investigation going on, our security agencies are analyzing the situation on the ground, but our first suspicion is Al-Shabaab. We’ve had this suspicion all along.”

The African Union summit is scheduled to be held in Kampala next week.

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