NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The World Cup opening match was showing on TV screens in the normally popular Nairobi bar, but it was only half full. At Freedom Park in Lagos, Nigeria, fewer than 50 people watched the action on a massive screen.
Warnings by security experts that Islamic militants might attack crowds watching the World Cup in public places, as they did in 2010 in Uganda, appear to have kept many at home on the opening night of the World Cup.
The Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, Uganda, was one of two spots attacked by al-Shabab militants during the 2010 World Cup final. The blasts killed 74 people. On Thursday night, as World Cup host Brazil played Croatia, the place was nearly empty.
Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria have all been hit by Islamist militants — by al-Shabab in Uganda and Kenya and by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The U.S. Embassy in Kenya this month warned citizens to “exercise caution” at venues with World Cup crowds. The British government warned that in Nigeria “terrorists have previously targeted places where football matches are being viewed.” Ugandan police and the U.S. Embassy in Kampala have issued alerts about impending attacks.
“One is quite on edge. And we don’t anticipate bad news but it’s lingering,” said Philippe Huenermann, the owner of Havana, a popular bar in Nairobi. “It’s like a shadow.”
Bob Munir, a Kenyan, wore a wide smile as he watched the soccer match, but compared with previous years he had fewer fellow customers to share the vibe with.
“Look at this place, it’s normally packed. They come in and have one beer and leave. It’s a pity,” he said.
Even though the security warnings may hurt his bottom line, Huenermann said the authorities are doing what they need to do. He employs about eight security guards in dark black suits and the German national says they “know what to look out for.”
Huenermann also owns a sports bar in Kampala — Just Kicking — and can compare security in both countries. After the 2010 attacks, he said, the Ugandan government required his Kampala locale to post four armed government security forces. In Kenya, no such measures have been taken.
At Kampala’s Kyadondo Rugby Club, manager Robert Seguya urged his security guards to perform thorough checks.
Big crowds at sports bars and World Cup gatherings can overwhelm poorly paid security guards. Security was lax four years ago at the rugby club, a survivor of the bombings said.
“That night we were not really checked,” said customer Albert Ahabwe. Clients and security guards were so clueless about explosions, he recalled, that when the first bomb went off many believed it was an electrical malfunction and remained sitting. Most of the victims died when a second, more powerful bomb exploded.
Ugandan authorities are urging vigilance, and police have been visiting sports bars to check on security measures. Some places were found to have lax standards and were threatened with closure, said police spokesman Fred Enanga.
In Nigeria, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said citizens should look out for strange parcels or objects.
World Cup screening venues in 10 countries — Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Iraq, Tanzania, Uganda, Djibouti, Burundi, Ethiopia, Tunisia — face risk of attack, according to Robert Besseling, the lead Africa analyst at the consulting firm IHS Country Risk. He wrote that there will “almost certainly” be attacks in Nigeria and that “the most likely locations where foreigners will be targeted are Kenya and Tanzania.”
Huenermann said that since al-Shabab intensified attacks in Kenya in recent months, expat customers are scarce, but “the Kenyans are coming. They are very resilient.”
They’re also wary.
Munir, Huenermann’s customer, said: “It’s there in the back of my mind. I’m always looking for something out of the ordinary.”
Associated Press reporters Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala Uganda and Sunday Alabama and Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
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