KAMPALA, Uganda — “Sometimes I get these bad dreams,” said Ahmed Uleh, his eyes hidden behind shiny aviator sunglasses. “Like they are trying to cut off my head.”
Marc Hofer for The New York Times - A Somali girl walked home from school with her Ugandan classmates. Somalis have built a flourishing community that many here call Little Mogadishu.
Mr. Uleh, 34, said he was kidnapped in Somalia last year by the Shabab, the militant Islamist insurgent group that claimed responsibility for blowing up two gatherings of soccer fans in Uganda during the final game of the World Cup this month, killing 76 people and putting East Africa on high alert.
Mr. Uleh’s captors tied his legs and arms behind a chair, he said, and beat him. After being freed, Mr. Uleh said he donned a woman’s burqa, pretended to be a mother carrying a baby in her arms and made his way past rebel checkpoints to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, before catching a flight out.
He arrived here in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, last year, joining tens of thousands of other Somalis who have fled decades of violence back home, to come live in a country diplomats and United Nations officials call a refugee’s paradise.
Now that paradise is under threat. Since the attacks, the military and police presence has heightened, some travelers from the Horn of Africa have been turned away at borders and changes to asylum protocol have put Somalis like Mr. Uleh on edge.
Adding to the anxiety among refugees, an agency working here to help resettle them in the United States abruptly left the country, raising fears that hundreds had been stranded.
The developments could endanger the attraction of Uganda as a precious transit point or final destination for the droves of people fleeing the many dangers of Somalia, including the brutality of insurgent groups like the Shabab.
According to the United Nations, Somalia produces the third most refugees in the world, behind Afghanistan and Iraq, and Uganda is a natural haven for them.
It has one of the most liberal refugee policies in Africa, granting approval to virtually all asylum applicants from the region, except Rwanda, which seeks to have its refugees returned.
Here in Kampala, Somalis have built a flourishing and assimilated community, selling sheep, fixing cars, running restaurants and playing soccer in a neighborhood that many here call Little Mogadishu.
Mr. Uleh himself dresses more like a trendy nightclub D.J. than an impoverished refugee, and thousands of Somalis here are in the middle of an applications process to be resettled in the United States.
The World Cup was supposed to be a celebration for Somalis, too, as one of the tournament’s official songs was performed by a popular Somali-born rapper, K’Naan, making him a hero to many young Somali men.
But then, in the second half of the final game, three explosions ripped through two popular sites where fans were watching. The Shabab claimed responsibility a day later, and for Uganda’s Somali community, a new reality was soon ushered in.
The police stopped registering new refugees immediately after the attacks. The process has since reopened with new regulations and there has been a surge in registrations, but community leaders said they believed that there were many who were too timid to come forward.
They say a chill has descended on the once friendly streets of Kampala. Last week, an Eritrean man was beaten to death by a mob that apparently thought he was Somali.
Community leaders say more than 20 Somalis have also been arrested from the neighborhood, including a popular businessman, and many more have been picked up and questioned.
“We have stepped up vigilance in all corners, but our people are very hospitable,” said Musa Ecweru, Uganda’s state minister for disasters. “We don’t want xenophobia here. There is a lot going on at the moment.”
Refugees in Little Mogadishu have a larger worry lurking in the back of their minds — the dream of America.
Last week, the Joint Voluntary Agency, which processes resettlement applications of refugees on behalf of the United States government, picked up and left the country days before a major interview session. Refugees say they do not know why.
“I just hope they come back,” said Ahmed Adam, 21, who is one of hundreds who was supposed to be interviewed last week.
American officials confirmed the agency’s withdrawal, describing it as a temporary move because of the attacks. Security has been beefed up in town, and more than 60 agents from the F.B.I. are in the country investigating the bombings. What they find could have a major impact on how liberal the environment for Somalis in Uganda remains.
“Resettlement of refugees to the United States is a lengthy process,” said Joann Lockard, a spokesperson for the State Department in Uganda. “At this time, the July 11 attacks have not altered the process for Somali refugees in Uganda from the U.S. perspective.”
The United States resettles thousands of Somalis to America every year. More than 50,000 have been resettled since fiscal year 2004 alone, according to the State Department.
From the perspective of some of the Somalis in Uganda, veterans of refugee life, the attacks are another setback in a long and unpredictable line of interviews, security checks and bulletin-board announcements.
Ali Mohammed Muse, 28, is one. He and his mother fled from Somalia to Uganda in 2004, and she was soon resettled to the United States. At his refugee camp in Uganda, Mr. Muse worked as a youth leader and soccer coach.
Now he lives in Little Mogadishu, hoping to be reunited with his mother in Seattle. But Mr. Muse fears that the terrorist attacks have dented his chances, and shakes his head helplessly.
“I don’t know why, but I feel like I am guilty,” he said. “Maybe I look like one; maybe I have the same name.”