1 December 2021, Resort security in Uganda finds detonator, prevents bombing in the wake of ISIS attacks – tourists and conference-goers flee hotels

Dec Wed, 2021 Security

Note: On 6 October 2021, at the Hospitality Law Virtual Seminar, Muir Analytics produced a global hotel threat assessment for late 2021 and all of 2022. The assessment said that, pending Covid flareups, a rise in hotel violence in Africa, among other regions, was eminent. The attempted attack on the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Uganda validates Muir’s data, analytical methods, and analytical output.

 

During the weekend of 20 November, a man was caught by alert hotel security trying to bring a detonator into the Speke Resort Munyonyo just outside Kampala.

The Speke Resort is a sprawling, tropically manicured, 4-star property owned by The Speke Group. The Speke Group owns five hotels, resorts, and apartments in Kampala. The discovery of the detonator likely saved scores of lives and prevented certain, heavy destruction. This attempted bombing did not happen in a vacuum, however. Uganda is under attack by ISIS-linked terrorists, and the attempted hotel bombing was inevitable.

A surge of terrorist violence indicated a hotel attack was likely 

There were multiple incidents of violence in Uganda indicating hotel violence was likely. All Africa reports that a spate of gruesome machete attacks in Uganda over the summer of 2021 killed at least 25 people. Some government officials blamed operatives from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist jihadist group aligned with ISIS with base camps in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC). Others suspected political rivalries.

While these machete incidents alone did not immediately foretell hotel violence was on the horizon, they had more meaning later on when added to ADF attacks that flared up from June into November. And these terrorist attacks certainly indicated hotel violence was probable.

On 1 June, there was a rolling ambush by motorcycle gunmen on the convoy of Uganda’s Works and Transport Minister, Katumba Wamala, reports The Citizen. Minister Wamala is also Uganda’s former military and police chief. Wamala survived the attack, but he was wounded. His daughter and driver were killed. The government blamed the ADF, said Reuters.

On 26 August, security forces arrested an apparent ADF operative at the Atimikica Guest House in Pader town for making bombs, at least one of which was ready to explode. Authorities say he was likely targeting the funeral of Deputy Inspector General of Police, Lieutenant General Paul Lokech, a veteran of Ugandan military operations in Somalia fighting al Shabaab and multiple successful operations against the ADF in Uganda.

After this came four bombings in October, all linked to the ADF, one of which was reportedly hidden in jackfruit, or made to look like jackfruit, says Reuters and Al Jazeera. Reuters said the device exploded after unknown persons gave it to children to play with, killing two of them.

On 16 November 2021, says the BBC, the ADF attacked Kampala’s Central Police Station with a suicide bomber, and two other suicide bombers detonated their devices 100 meters from parliament. The attacks killed 11 and wounded 39. ISIS – again, aligned with the ADF – publicly claimed responsibility.

The government launched an aggressive investigation and tightened security throughout the country. The BBC and the Somali Dispatch say security forces found bombs and a would-be suicide bomber elsewhere in Kampala, and they arrested 21 suspects. They also shot and killed an alleged Islamist jihadist cleric described by the BBC as an ADF recruiter.

By 22 November, Ugandan police had arrested 160 bomb plot suspects, says Al Jazeera.

Hotel security discovers a detonator

The Tower Post reports that over the weekend of 20 November 2021, alert hotel security guards at the Speke Resort Munyonyo (aka, the Speke Resort and Conference Centre) just outside Kampala discovered a bomb detonator in the car (a Toyota Wish) of a man trying to drive onto the resort.

The culprit is a Somali national, says The Tower Post. He told police he was a special car driver for hire who was employed by another Somali man who told him to pick up his mother and siblings (one report said his children) from the hotel, says Capital Radio.

Police arrested the driver, two people at the hotel the diver was to collect, the man who hired the driver, and some of the latter’s family members.

It is not clear if the detonator was the explosive type or the electronic type. There were no reports of any explosive devices found on the property.

Alarmingly, the resort was set to host a ministerial meeting headed by President Yoweri Museveni later in the week, reports The East African.

The aftermath

By 30 November, Uganda had conducted artillery and airstrikes against ADF bases in DROC. Ugandan infantry forces had also crossed the border into DROC and were engaged in ground operations (technically, this was an AirLand campaign.) These operations were apparently conducted in conjunction with DROC forces.

The East African reports that all these ADF attacks have had a severe, negative impact on Uganda’s hotel sector. The country had been counting on the holiday season to help it recover from two years of Covid restrictions and less than 40% occupancy rates, but this is now unlikely.

The Uganda Hotel Owners Association says more than five international conferences were canceled in the wake of the November attacks. Amos Wekesa of the Great Lakes Safaris Tour Company and Uganda Lodges told the press, “We had immediate cancellations because no one wants to come and spend their money in a country that is being attacked.”

Takeaways

First, regarding security tactics, the Speke Resort Munyonyo’s guard force was decisively effective. Their professional search procedures prevented a key bomb component from being introduced into the hotel, which, if mated with an IED and then detonated, could have caused numerous casualties and heavy property damage. This guard force was likely on high alert following Kampala’s recent ADF suicide bombings. This should serve as a lesson to other hotel security teams facing similar threat situations.

Second, regarding targeting, based on the attacks listed above, it is clear the ADF targets Ugandan government personnel (and civilians,) and it is likely the hotel detonator (and the bomb it was supposed to set off) was meant for President Yoweri Museveni and his upcoming ministerial meeting.

Third, and again regarding targeting, it is no surprise that the ADF targeted a hotel. Besides the government VIP aspect of this attempted bombing, statistics from Muir Analytics’ SecureHotel Threat Portal database decisively prove that Islamist jihadists target hotels as a matter of policy.

Fourth, regarding bombing tactics, all current data points suggest the ADF was attempting an attack roughly akin to the IRA’s 1984 Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton. In the Brighton case, the IRA covertly placed a time bomb inside the hotel well before the annual, up-and-coming Conservative Party meeting featuring Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The device detonated during the conference over a week after it was planted. The ADF’s Speke Resort bombing plan seems similar as it methodically targeted a key government meeting and Uganda’s president with a notable lead time. Based on the ADF’s past bombings, the device was either meant to be a suicide bomb or, like Brighton, a surreptitiously planted device. The aforementioned ADF bomb disguised as jackfruit suggests the latter was indeed a possibility.

Fifth, another point regarding bombing tactics would be that the ADF, like many other Islamist jihadist groups, does not limit itself to “one and done” type attacks. (See the 2019 Easter hotel and church bombings in Sri Lanka, for example – and see a video briefing here.) The ADF did not retreat from the inevitable security dragnets in the aftermath of the 16 November bombings. Nor did it retreat from the same after its October attacks. On the contrary, the ADF had multiple bombings planned for November, including a hotel attack, and it did not halt these plans.

As previously stated, in threat environments like these, hotel security should remain on high alert for follow-on attacks.

Sixth, based on the above points, and the fact that the ADF has staged scores of attacks in recent months, the ADF should be considered an aggressive, methodical, and brutish organization that is bent on carrying out a terrorist campaign in Uganda.

Looking forward, the ADF will aim to continue attacks in Uganda. Ugandan security forces will increase efforts to stop them. So far, however, the ADF has proven it can get at least some attacks by the otherwise capable Ugandan police, military, and intelligence services. The indication is that the ADF has a solid network in Uganda from which to work from.

ADF tactics will include, but not be limited to, bombings, shootings, knife/machete attacks, vehicle attacks, etc., and possibly raids if it can covertly amass the right personnel and weaponry. The latter will be harder to do if Ugandan forces deploy domestically en masse.

Targeting will continue to include government and civilian entities, including hotels. Hotels in Uganda should anticipate all manners of these attacks and increase security as the Speke Resort did. Crisis management plans and the right insurance policies should be in place to respond to terrorist violence if it happens. Insurance covering loss of attraction due to the ADF security situation should also be considered.

Muir Analytics runs the world’s largest, most sophisticated hotel violence database – the SecureHotel Threat Portal – with over 1,900 hotel attacks (and growing). We can provide the hospitality sector with intelligence that facilitates full-spectrum risk reduction, which helps hotels protect guests, staff, buildings, brands, and revenues. Contact us for a consultation:  1-833-DATA-444.

Sources and further reading

Kampala twin attacks rattle Uganda’s tour industry,” The East African, 29 November 2021.

Somali national arrested with explosive detonator at Speke Resort Munyonyo,” The Tower Post, 23 November 2021.

Uganda arrests four over suspected explosive device,” The East African, 23 November 2021.

Uganda arrests 4 Somalis linked to discovered detonator,” Somali Dispatch, 23 November 2021.

Four Somali nationals arrested with suspected bomb in their car,” Capital Radio, 22 November 2021.

Several suspects killed in Uganda after bombings: Police,” Al Jazeera, 22 November 2021.

Uganda’s Kampala bombings: Muslim cleric accused of jihadist links shot dead,” BBC, 18 November 2021.

Kampala blasts: Suicide bombers target Ugandan capital,” BBC, 16 November 2021.

Fruit-shaped bomb kills 2 children in Uganda,” Al Jazeera, 30 October 2021.

CORRECTED-Fruit-shaped bomb kills two children in Ugandan village -police,” Reuters, 29 October 2021.

Uganda bus blast a ‘suicide bomb attack’: Police,” France 24, 26 October 2021.

Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’: President,” France 24, 24 October 2021.

IS claims responsibility for bomb attack in Uganda,” Reuters, 24 October 2021.

Uganda: Masaka terror – police arrest 38 as panga attacks rage on,” AllAfrica.com, 28 August 2021.

Man arrested assembling bombs in Pader district,” The Independent, 27 August 2021.

PHOTOS: CMI seize ‘explosives from ADF agent’ targeting Lokech burial,” ChimpReports.com, 26 August 2021.

Uganda links Islamist rebels to attempted murder of minister,” Reuters, 1 July 2021.

Allied Democratic Forces: The Ugandan rebels working with IS in DR Congo,” BBC, 14 June 2021.

Ugandan General’s car shot 56 times,” The Citizen, 3 June 2021.

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