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Terror Fear in City Malls

US embassy warns of terror attack on Entebbe as Kampala fears for its malls and crowded places

Recent reports warning of a terror attack on Ugandan soil have sent top security officials into overdrive, planning how to keep the country safe, The Observer has established.

According to a source close to Uganda’s intelligence community, authorities have been particularly alarmed to find that most of Kampala’s shopping malls – let alone those in other towns – do not have adequate measures to avert terrorist attacks. Our source went as far as saying that only one shopping centre, the recently-opened Acacia mall, can be said to have a hard-to-breach security system.

The Observer understands that in the last two months, a multi-agency security team, headed by police chief Kale Kayihura, has been assessing intelligence reports on possible terror threats and whether the country can ably foil an attack. The team, which reports to President Museveni, is largely drawn from security organisations (Police, ISO, ESO, CMI and UPDF).

It is working closely with security personnel at the American and British missions in Uganda. Our source says the US and UK have been useful sources of vital intelligence information, given their aanced security setup and resources. Indeed, the US embassy yesterday issued a statement warning its citizens here of a potential terrorist attack on Entebbe airport between 9pm and 11pm last night.

“Individuals planning travel through the airport this evening [July 3] may want to review their plans in light of this information. Review your personal security plans remain aware of your surroundings, including local events and monitor local news stations for updates.

Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security,” said the statement posted on the embassy’s website.

In addition, the security officials are assessing information that terrorists, possibly linked to al-Shabab, could strike on July 13, the day of the final match of the World Cup, like they did in July 2010.

“It is a general technique used by terrorists. They like targeting anniversaries. You remember how they tried to bomb London again in 2006 on the eve of the first anniversary of the London bombings of 2005,” the source said.

A spate of terror attacks in neighbouring Kenya in recent months has kept Uganda alive to the danger of terrorism in the region. Uganda, like Kenya, remains a target given the presence of its peace-keeping troops in Somalia, against the wishes of the militant al-Shabab which still controls parts of the country.

So far both countries are working closely to fight back. Uganda’s former head of the counter-terrorism unit, John Ndungutse, is now based in Nairobi as a liaison officer between Uganda and Kenya.

Urban counter-terrorism force:

One of the most visible security measures rolled out recently is the deployment of an urban counter-terrorism force (officially referred to as the field force), at strategic places in the city. The force, which recently underwent a one-year specialist training in intelligence gathering and self-defence techniques, is manning the major roundabouts, power installations and key buildings like Parliament.

Besides the uniformed officers, security has increased the presence of plain clothed personnel in crowded places. Their work is to gather intelligence, look at potential problem areas and monitor the security situation.

They have been trained to blend in with the crowd and only those with a trained eye can pick them out. Some have been placed at the major shopping malls and downtown.

Malls vulnerable:

Security officials are greatly concerned about the lax security at most shopping malls. Our source told us that malls remain a major target of terrorists because they are frequented by the affluent, diplomats and foreign tourists. An assessment of security at major shopping malls found many loopholes.

For instance, the security cameras at most malls are concentrated at the entry or exit points, ignoring some areas like the backyard, which can provide safe cover to would-be terrorists.

Secondly, the source said, many of the handheld metal detectors used to frisk people at most malls are defective. Some could not detect metallic objects like pistols or pocket knives. Another big concern was the fact that private guards could not reliably use the under-vehicle scanner. It was discovered that many of the guards, could not identify a foreign object from a car part even with the aid of this scanner.

A guard at one of the malls, our source said, confessed that he just uses the scanner as part of a daily routine but was clueless about what he is looking out for. Ideally, our source said, private guards are supposed to be trained to be able to identify suspicious objects, using a scanner, that might not be part of the underside of the car.

It was also discovered that many security guards at the malls simply wave through cars that belong to tenants, government officials and diplomats. Other guards, the security team discovered, were found to be in the habit of asking for water or money from regular customers, something that compromises their judgment towards certain people.

It thus becomes easy for potential terrorists to befriend these guards and thus make their mission easy, the security team observed, according to our source. These and other concerns were recently tabled before the top management of the major shopping malls, our source said. In the meeting, whose details our source is privy to, security asked all malls to install walk-through metal detectors whose accuracy rate is high.

Some malls were told to install more surveillance cameras to further secure their places. In addition, they were told to frisk (thoroughly check) all people who enter. However, the source said, some mall owners expressed reservations that strict security measures will scare away customers, thereby affecting their business.

Yet the biggest headache for security, our source said, remains on how to secure crowded places like the airport, the two taxi parks, markets and education institutions, among others. With the city virtually unsurveilled (no CCTV cameras), it has become increasingly difficult to monitor activities of its inhabitants.

The idea has been to use a combination of uniformed and plain-clothes personnel to monitor the situation. In addition, police bomb squads have been stationed at the taxi parks and the airport to avert any danger.

Coordination:

Police spokesman Fred Enanga confirmed that strict measures had been instituted to foil any terror attack. He said they had held meetings with owners of shopping malls, schools, churches and entertainment places to find ways of securing their places better and to equip them with security skills.

Enanga said they were also following up on reports that remnants of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) could be trying to regroup or to work with al-Shabab to wreak havoc.

Countrywide, he added, they had reactivated their crime prevention units and recruited informants to inform them of any suspicious movements. The informants are supposed to work hand-in-hand with crime intelligence officers in their areas to gather as much intelligence as possible.

“As far as security is concerned, we have been vigilant due to a well-coordinated security plan. We have set up measures which are applicable under all circumstances,” Enanga said.

Source : The Observer

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