'Long-overdue' trial of Uganda terror suspects begins

Ugandan police inspect the destroyed Ethiopian Village restaurant in Kampala after twin bomb blasts late on July 11, 2010 tore through crowds of football fans watching the World Cup final (AFP Photo/Trevor Snapp)

Kampala (AFP) - The trial of 13 men accused of involvement in twin bomb attacks that killed 76 people in Uganda nearly five years ago finally got under way on Tuesday.

The July 2010 bombings targeted football fans watching the World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain at a restaurant and a rugby club in the capital, Kampala. Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab militants claimed responsibility for the strikes, the region's worst attacks in more than a decade.

On Tuesday, 13 men appeared at Uganda's High Court to face a range of charges including terrorism, murder and membership of a terrorist organisation.

"The trial of the accused persons has been long overdue," said Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo at the opening session of what is set to be a long trial involving dozens of charges.

Dollo said the nearly five-year delay was because the suspects had challenged their trial, alleging illegal rendition and torture by Uganda's police and other security agencies.

In October the Constitutional Court dismissed the petition, clearing the way for the trial to begin.

Dollo said the trial would now be "fair, speedy and above board".

The accused men -- seven Kenyans, five Ugandans and one Tanzanian -- have all been charged with terrorism, murder, attempted murder and being accessories to terrorism. On Tuesday all but one were also charged with belonging to the Shebab group.

In 2011 another attacker, 31-year-old Edris Nsubuga, was sentenced to three concurrent 25-year sentences over his role in the bombings. He was spared the death penalty because he expressed contrition over the carnage, and claimed to have been threatened with beheading if he refused to help the bombers.

Co-accused Muhamoud Mugisha, 24, also received five years for conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The July 2010 attack was one of the deadliest by the Shebab, who also carried out the 2013 assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people.

Uganda and Kenya contribute thousands of soldiers to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which was established to fight the Islamists and protect the internationally recognised government.

Shebab continues to target both countries. Kenya has been hit by a string of armed attacks in the remote northeast of the country. In September Ugandan security forces seized suicide vests and explosives during a raid on a suspected Shebab cell in Kampala.

Tuesday's trial was adjourned until Thursday.