Uganda: Inside the Underworld of Terrorist Sleeper Cells

Uganda: Inside the Underworld of Terrorist Sleeper Cells

November 14, 2021

Daily Monitor

Members of a suspected terror cell that police continue to pursue had reportedly recruited, radicalised and trained members at Salaam Mosque in Lweza, off the Kampala-Entebbe highway.

And in 2017, the local leaders of Lweza in Makindye Ssabagabo Municipality in Wakiso District, where the suspected terror cell members operated, tipped off the authorities at the CID headquarters in Kampala of the group’s suspicious activities.
They reported the clandestine behaviour of an imaam who preached at Salaam Mosque in Lweza.

It is not clear which steps were taken by the police officers who were tipped off about the shady activities.
A suspected bomber, Isaac Matovu, alias Muzafaru, and his alleged accomplice Yusuf Muwonge, are reported to have freely roamed Lweza B where they stayed and operated mobile money outlets.
While terror organisations typically deal with multifaceted procedures to obscure information from external forces who pursue them, it was not the case with the Lweza cell.

The chairman of Lweza B, Mr Mohammad Ssali, names the man behind the recruiting youth into the alleged terror cell as Sulaiman Nsubuga, who acted as an imaam at Salaam Mosque in Lweza B.
“He openly taught extremism and he expelled women who did not cover their faces. He barred men without beards. And to effect his directives, he reportedly deployed stick-wielding musclemen to drive away kafirs. Sulaiman became a problem and we fired him,” Mr Ssali explains. We were unable to independently verify Mr Ssali’s claim.
But Imaam Nsubuga is said to have served in the mosque between 2017 and 2018 when the substantive imaam was away for duty in Dubai,UAE.

Mr Ssali says as caretaker of the mosque, Imaam Nsubuga used the opportunity to preach that the only true faith is that in line with Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and Islamic State.
Mr Ssali says a meeting of the mosque leaders convened and expelled Nsubuga, who took off with his children because even at his home he was at loggerheads with his then wife.
He says Imaam Nsubuga then took the children to Usafi Mosque in Kisenyi and during a military raid on the place in May 2018, Imaam Nsubuga’s children were discovered.

“Police had refused to surrender them [children] to their mother. Good enough, the mom had a police reference of missing children from the Kajjansi Police Station. So, I went and explained to police and the children were handed back. It is at this moment, way back in 2017 or 2018, when I told police about the behaviour of Imaam Nsubuga,” Mr Ssali says.

But early last year, Imaam Nsubuga is said to have resurfaced at Lweza briefly and Mr Ssali says he thought police had released him, “if at all he was ever arrested in line with what I had reported”.
During this brief comeback, Imaam Nsubuga was reported to have reconnected with many of the suspects now under detention.

The anti-terrorism squad in a wide operation netted 11 suspects from the Lweza area but some six were released.
Among those released were Sadik Musunguzi, Hasana Ssebunya, Faisal Nsubuga, Hero Ishaka, Abdul Shakur and his wife Sharon Nakitende.
But security agencies say still on the run are Sharif Kiyemba, Munir Hasan, Uthman Musunguzi and another only identified by one name, Munir.

At least six people, including the imaam of Salaam Mosque in Lweza, Mohammad Ssozi, and his wife Safina Namale, Ibra Byansi and Shamim Ndagire were released.
Faisal Nsubuga has been staying with his mother Ruth Nantongo, and on the day of the raid, he was arrested and taken together with his wife, and sister, but these were screened and also released.

Life of denial
The underworld of the suspects is characterised by life of self-denial, which acts security analysts say could also be a cover up for terror cells in Uganda.
“They live a destitute life to cover up but also mainly because during indoctrination, they are discouraged to value material things but to focus on jaa’ana (heaven),” a security analyst said.
Most of the suspects under detention have been arrested from ramshackle rented houses. The suspects also operated Mobile Money outlets.

Tracing Muzafaru
Muzafaru Matovu is the suspected bomber who security agencies suspect blew up himself on a Swift Safari bus at Lungala on October 26.
He has reportedly been staying at the family home of a one Sharif, who disappeared from home and has never been heard from since the .police raided his family home.

In the village, both have been known as a mobile money agents.
“Right there, a few metres from my office is where Matovu operated his business, but none of us knew his secret deals,” Mr Ssali says.
Ssali says although security agents are still holding Sharon and Shakur, he believes that they may not be involved in the crimes.

He says the two worked at the same building and perhaps what links them to Muzafaru are the telephone contacts as a result of the neighbour relations, or ordinary friendship. “Security must be in touch with us, they should investigate in close consultation with us here because we know our people,” Mr Ssali says.

A highly placed security source said the teaching and driver of converts is the fight against those they perceive as infidels in order to gain access to heaven. “And whenever we have had raids in their homes, the common item that we find is jihad literature and bomb-making materials,” the source said.

In Uganda, terrorism has manifested in two forms- assassinations and bombings. But President Museveni says the terror cells within the country will soon be history.
But a security source, who preferred anonymity, says regardless of political talk, there is now evidence on how the terrorists have been recruited, indoctrinated, trained and deployed.

“In Uganda, terrorism has manifested in two forms – assassinations and bombings. The bombers have the science to make bombs and need time and ability to perfect what they are doing. But the breakthrough is that we have penetrated their cells,” the source said.

There has been a lot of criticism with some people saying that government deliberately targets Muslims.
But a top security source says, “In the past, we had not tied down the ADF to terrorism in Uganda. We were simply suspicious, but in all the arrests related to assassinations, it was common for Muslims to be linked. The breakthrough is after the attempted assissination of Gen Katumba, when the suspects helped us to link them with the ADF.”

The senior security source also says, being an outfit believing in religion, they can’t recruit non-Muslims and that’s why in the case of Lweza, recruitment and indoctrination occurred within the Salaam mosque.

Salaam mosque
Sunday Monitor could not get in touch with Imaam Ssozi of Salaam Mosque, but his wife, Safina Namale, said the man alleged to have recruited the suspects has ever served as an imaam at the mosque.
“I remember some of the youth who are now arrested as having been our members here. They used to pray here,” Ms Namale said.

Renting and work
In the last one week, Sunday Monitor has visited five homes formerly occupied by some of the suspects. Three in Lweza in Makindye Ssabagabo Municipality, and one in each of the villages of Nakabugo and Kireka Bbira in Wakiso Mumyuka Sub-county.

Matovu, the suspected bomber, who reportedly blew himself up in a Swift Safari bus at Lungala on October 26, had rented an outhouse at the family home of Sharif, who is reported on the run.
A neighbour said just like any other person, the routine of the two was to go out in the morning and come back after work in the evening.
“But in the middle of the day, they would come back, twice or once for prayers,” one neighbour, who preferred anonymity, said.
Ms Ruth Nantongo, the mother of one of the suspects, remained tight-lipped but she showed this reporter the house her son stayed in with his wife.

“Everything is under investigation and I can’t say a lot. I am devastated as a parent,” Ms Nantongo said.
At Nakabugo, where suspect Muwonge had only rented a week before he was arrested, the local council chairman, Mr Walabyeki, said he was not aware about how Muwonge ended up renting within his village.
“We often encourage landlords and new residents to register with us but many don’t comply,” Mr Walabyeki said.

At Kireka-Bbira, the area council chairman, Mathias Ssengonzi, said he did not know about Muwonge staying at the home of his in-law and sister.
Ssalingo Byansi, a member of Salaam Mosque, said he knew most of the suspects as members of the mosque and residents of the village. “Matovu was a mobile money agent and I also knew Faizal, he sometimes rode a boda boda motorcycle,” Mr Byansi said.

Who was Muzafaru Matovu?

What we know so far is that Isaac Matovu, alias Muzafaru, was a prime suspect in the bombings that have rocked Kampala recently.
He is the suspected bomber who security agencies say blew up himself on a Swift Safari bus at Lungala on October 26.
Muzafaru, a reticent and prayerful man, lived in Lweza, Kajjansi, in a single room that he rented from a family of five siblings whose parents have passed on.

The said single room was a latter addition to the main house, built at the back by Sharif, one of the brothers, to provide an extra source of income.
Muzafaru met Sharif at the mosque, and both men were prayerful and would never miss a day without prayer.
Prior to meeting at Salaam Mosque in Lweza, they didn’t know each other because Muzafaru is not from around Lweza.
And none of the residents that we talked to could tell where he had come from.

Most of the residents say Muzafaru was a reticent man who kept to himself. As the two men met for prayers on a daily basis, they got talking and Sharif found out that Muzafaru was looking for accommodation.

So Sharif, who had a free room at home, rented it out to Muzafaru.
That was at the beginning of 2019.
Muzafaru then lived in the said accommodation alone, save for a short period of time when he had a live-in girlfriend for about two months, according to neighbours.
He barely ever hosted visitors, or involved himself in chitchats.

Muzafaru’s routine
Muzafaru also reportedly ran a Mobile Money business around Mary Kevin, a congested section of Lweza.
His routine was to leave for work at 7am in the morning, and return at 7pm. And every evening, Muzafaru returned from work with groceries and cooked for himself inside the house, until the night of Sunday, October 24, when he didn’t return in for the night.
Curiously, that this is the same night that heavily-armed security personnel stormed the home looking for him.

It also happens to be the night right before the Mpigi bus bombing of October 25 that Muzafaru is alleged to have masterminded.
The days that followed the bus bombing, soldiers returned every night looking for those who have hang out with or knew Muzafaru.

One of those people was his landlord, Sharif, who disappeared immediately after the October 24 raid.
The family still does’t know where Sharif is. There has been zero communication from him since and his phone lines have remained inaccessible.

Counting arrests
In all, about 12 people have since been arrested around the Lweza area, with all of them, including Muzafaru, running mobile money businesses. Several other Lweza men also running Mobile Money businesses have since gone into hiding.
All those arrested, except one, Sharif’s pregnant sister, was released two days after the arrest.
But one might gleam some clues from what one of the residents of Lweza said about Sharif.

“He runs a Mobile Money business, but he does more than that. He is the go-to man for anyone that wants to start a Mobile Money business.
What he does is that he makes calls to someone; he had good connections with the telecom companies. He makes all the processes of registration and acquiring the Mobile Money licence easy.”

“He’s a good man, with a very good reputation around here. He grew up a nice, well-behaved boy and we have never had any issues with his manners or way of life. He is one of those very kind people; a prayerful man, respected by all.”
So could have Isaac Matovu, alias Muzafaru, be the suspected bomber who security agencies say blew up himself on a Swift Safari bus at Lungala on October 26?

How security agents connected dots leading to bombing suspects

November 07, 2021

Daily Monitor

A squad of counter-terrorism agents were hot on the heels of a terror suspect in October, when they received information that more terror suspects were planning several more attacks in November and December in Kampala.

Sources close to the probe said security agents had received an intelligence tip-off through a social media platform, triggering off the hunt for the terror suspects.

The source said a social media platform was designed to exhibit similarities with a website but with restricted access only to the administrators of the site.

“We hacked into the system and managed to get some phone contacts and other Facebook links, warning other countries on terror threats, we subjected telephone contacts to examination for any other connection,” the source said.

A security forensic report indicates that the terror group had links with the deadly terrorist groups that had attacked cities in France in November 2015 and left at least 41 people dead and 239 others wounded.

Tapping into terror network

The joint anti-terror security task force then used the phone mapping technology to trace the suspects.

The investigators say the main terror suspects were held and prosecuted in different courts and countries while others were killed during a series of counter-terrorism operations in Uganda, Kenya, and DR Congo.

Security operatives sources said the domestic terror groups in Kampala are connected in a way that they have the same method of attack.

“In the Komamboga incident, one person was killed and in the Swift Safari bus, one person was also killed. The group is trying to test their capability,” the source said.

Security has since carried several raids which are intelligence-led and arrested several suspects in respect to the bomb terror threats.

Last month, a bomb blast went off at Komamboga near Kampala, leaving one person dead and several others injured.

A fresh investigation by the anti-terror squad then commenced as they trailed new groups that were threatening attacks on Uganda and neighbouring countries.

Police said the three suspected bombers at Komamboga disguised themselves as customers before planting the explosives under a table at the hangout. The Islamic State group (IS) later said it was behind the attack.

The explosion came one week after the UK government issued an alert of an imminent terror attack in Uganda.

It warned British citizens in the East African country – where attacks of this kind are rare – that “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks”. It advised them to keep out of public places, including restaurants and bars.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the bombers ordered food and drinks at the bar, before placing a plastic bag under a table. The explosion went off moments after they left.

Investigators have found nails, ball bearings and other metal fragments, Mr Enanga added.

He said these indicated the blasts were caused by an improvised explosive device.

President Museveni said on Twitter that the blast was a terrorist act and promised to catch the perpetrators.

“The public should not fear, we shall defeat this criminality like we have defeated all the other criminality committed by the pigs who don’t respect life,” he said.

In the same month, at least one person died and several got wounded in an explosion on a bus en route to Mbarara, two days after a deadly attack in the Ugandan capital claimed by ISIL (ISIS).

Mr Enanga said bomb specialists were sent to Lungala following the deadly explosion on a bus belonging to Swift Safaris.

How Muwonge beat anti-terror swoop in Wakiso

November 07, 2021

Daily Monitor

For 11 days, a joint security team has been tracking a suspected bomber, an alleged accomplice in the Swift bus bombing on October 26 at Lungala, on the Masaka-Mpigi Road.

Yusuf Muwonge, alias Amza Ssendagire, is the man believed to have disembarked from a Swift coach.

Security agents think he returned to Kampala to work out his passport processes.

Since the bombing, Muwonge has reportedly been staying at his sister’s home at Kireka Bbira, Nakabugo Parish, Mumyuka Wakiso Sub-county in Wakiso District. Nakabugo Parish lies some 13.3 kilometres away or 29 minutes’ drive from Kampala via the Kampala – Northern Bypass highway and onto Sentema Road.

Before the authorities could catch up with Muwonge, two bombs had been blasted, leaving two people dead – one at Ronnie’s and Uncle Sam’s Pork joint and another on Swift bus, leaving several injured.

The swoop

But on Thursday night at 9pm, the security crack unit swooped on a house owned by Muwonge’s in-law, at Kireka-Bbira in Wakiso Mumyuka Sub-county where he had allegedly been hiding. But Muwonge slipped out using the backdoor, once more beating the security cordon.

In the house, Muwonge left his sister and his brother-in-Iaw, Umar Ssempagama Kaggwa, and another non-identified woman.

All have been arrested and are being held by the anti-terrorism security team.

In two bags, one being waist wrapped, was a bomb ready for activation, according to the security personnel.

Once in Muwonge’s room, one of the security officers reportedly dashed for the bag, thinking it contained money.

He was restrained. “But on checking, it was found to be an improvised bomb with metals, a water bottle and a phone,” the source said.

On the mention of “bomb”, the more than 30 officers scampered for dear lives. At 11,30pm, the bomb squad arrived and detonated the bomb.

Bomb equipment

When Sunday Monitor visited the scene on Friday morning, bicycle ball bearings, small nails and other metallic materials were still lying at the scene. Recovered from the house were several items, among them, an identification card used by Muwonge and other items.

The Kireka Bbira local council chairman, Mr Mathias Ssengonzi, said he did not know Muwonge, but he knew Mr Ssempagama as his resident. “I also knew the wife. They were peaceful residents,” Ssengozi said.

But the LC1 chairperson said he did not know when Muwonge visited Ssempagama’s place and he doubted whether Muwonge was actually the brother of the wife of Ssempagama. Mr Ssengonzi said when the security agents arrived in his area, he was informed they had come to arrest a suspected terrorist.

The security operatives camped at the scene overnight until Friday when another team of joint security forces arrived to comb the house for more exhibits.

A search of the house lasted several hours but the officers remained tight-lipped on their findings.

Police contradict LC1 boss

But police spokesperson Fred Enanga in a statement later on Friday, contradicted the LC1 chairperson’s account of events.

Mr Enanaga said Ssempagana Kaggwa was Muwonge’s landlord.

“We have arrested his [Muwonge’s] landlord, identified as Kagwa Umar, for harbouring the dangerous suspect at his home in Kireka –Bbira, being in possession of a bomb and as to whether he has any connections, to the radical ADF-linked groups in the country.”

Muwonge, 28, is one of the most wanted terror suspects, and is said to be linked to the bombings in Komamboga, Ttula Kawempe and on the Swift Safari bus.

Police said Muwonge is in a hyper mood, and has shifted from Lweeza, where he was staying with Isaac Matovu, then moved to Wamala Katooke, Nansana and unto his last hideout in Kireka –Biira, Wakiso District.

“We want to warn anyone who will be found harbouring or aiding Muwonge Yusuf, that they will face serious consequences for doing so,” Mr Enanga warned.

More searches

Nearby, at Nakabugo town centre, a kilometre from Kireka, another search was conducted at the houses owned by a landlord Yusuf Lule.

Here, Muwonge had just paid for three months to run a mobile money business. A search of the premises yielded no valuable evidence apart from a small table that Muwonge intended to use for his mobile money business.

“On Thursday morning Muwonge took many bags to another premise at Nakabugo. He had rented out a mobile money shop there,” Ssengonzi said.

President’s take

On October 26, President Museveni identified the terrorist behind the Swift coach bus attack as Muzafaala, who he said had been on a security watch list and was a wanted man.

The President further said Muzafala was part of the Pader group that had been sent by ADF to blow up the mourners during the funeral of deputy IGP late Lt Gen Paul Lokech. The President said Muzafala’s colleague, Abdu Katumba, was arrested in a Pader Hotel with his bomb-making equipment.

“This is to inform you that the person who died in the Ishaka – bound bus yesterday, was a terrorist (mutujju) by the names of Muzafala, but also calling himself Isaac Matovu,” Museveni said in a statement.

So far, two bombs have exploded since October 24, the first at a pork joint in Komamboga, killing one person. In the second incident, on Swift bus at Lungala, the suspected bomber died in the blast.


The UK and France last month warned of imminent terrorist attacks.

President Museveni says the attacks were orchestrated by ADF militants, affiliated to Islamic State.

The Thursday raid adds to security operations with another on September 2 where Children as young as three years and women were arrested in a military raid in connection to an alleged suicide bomber who was also linked to the Pader incident. The raid had three children and two women arrested from a family along with other men who were picked up from different households.

The women and children belong to the family of Imaam of An Swab Islamic Centre- Kibira, Sheikh Ismail Mutumba.

At the time of the raid at 1am, he was not at home, reportedly at another of his homes in Zana.

SOURCE: The African Crime and Conflict Journal