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An investigator walks through the remains of an Ethiopian-themed restaurant that was hit by an explosion during a screening of the World Cup final in Kampala, July 12, 2010. REUTERS/Benedicte Desrus/File Photo

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By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Five men were jailed for life in Uganda on Friday for their role in two al Shabaab bombings that killed 76 people among crowds watching the World Cup football final in July 2010.

The attacks, at a popular restaurant and a sports field where fans had gathered to watch the Spain vs Netherlands final on large screens, showed the ability of the Islamist militant group to strike far beyond the borders of its native Somalia.

It said the blasts were to avenge killings of Somalis by Ugandan troops, who were deployed to the Horn of Africa nation in 2007 as part of an African Union peacekeeping force to help defeat al Shabaab.

High Court judge Alphonse Owiny Dollo said it was likely most of those killed and maimed were opposed to the deployment by the Uganda People's Defence Force.

"The hundreds of victims of these wanton acts had nothing to do with the decision to deploy the UPDF in Somalia," he said.

"And yet because of these senseless and indiscriminate attacks, they are either dead or permanently living with the scars of these deeds."

The judge said while the crime was repugnant, he did not believe a death sentence would "give closure to the indelible pain that society has suffered."

Two other men found guilty of abetting the attacks were each given 50 years in jail. A third will do community service for a year because he had stayed in remand longer than the three years he would have served for being an accomplice, the court ruled.

Four of the convicted men were Kenyans, three were Ugandans and one was a Tanzanian. Except for the one sentenced to community service, the rest were convicted on multiple charges of terrorism, murder and attempted murder.

Five others were acquitted when the verdicts were read on Thursday. Two other Ugandans were jailed in 2011 after pleading guilty to terrorism charges related to the attacks, and were handed sentences of 25 and five years respectively.

Ugandan security said the blasts were carried out by suicide bombers but al Shabaab denied that, saying the bombs were planted at the scene.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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