Uganda said on Friday it had foiled a suicide bomb attack against the state funeral of top police and army commander who led a major African Union offensive against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
Security forces said they had arrested a man on Thursday in the northern town of Pader on the eve of the funeral for Major General Paul Lokech, nicknamed the “Lion of Mogadishu”.
“The suspect was found with an assortment of bomb-making materials,” army spokesperson Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso said in a statement, identifying him as Ugandan national Katumba Abdul, also known as Ben.
The materials included a homemade bomb, suicide vests, detonators, ammonium sulphate, switches and mobile phones used to detonate the device, she said.
“Investigations so far indicate that the suspect had intentions of disrupting the funeral proceedings of the late Maj Gen Paul Lokech,” Byekwaso said.
‘Brave and strategic fighter’
Lokech, who died at home on Saturday of a blood clot, served two stints as a commander in Somalia with AMISOM – the African Union military operation fighting the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents.
He led the units that routed al-Shabaab fighters from the capital Mogadishu in 2011, a feat that earned him his nickname.
He also served with the Ugandan army in an operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo against the feared Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) guerrillas and on a mission to help establish South Sudan’s armed forces.
Tributes were sent from leaders in Somalia and the international community for Lokech, who eight months ago was switched by President Yoweri Museveni from the military to the police force as deputy inspector general.
AMISOM described him as a “towering icon” in the fight against armed militants.
“We all remember him as a man of character, great courage, integrity, and honour,” it said in a statement this week.
“He was a brave and strategic fighter, who was instrumental in commanding the counter-insurgency operations that drove al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu in October 2011.”
In 2018, the Ugandan army said Somali troops had opened fire on Lokech’s convoy in Mogadishu, when he was head of the Ugandan contingent of AMISOM.
Although al-Shabaab militants were ousted from Mogadishu a decade ago, they still hold sway in other parts of the country and continue to wage attacks against civilian and military targets in the capital and elsewhere.