March 29 Terrorist Attacks (REUTERS)
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (Reuters) – At least 19 people were killed in a series of explosions and shoot-outs in Uzbekistan in “terrorist” actions aimed at splitting the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition, officials said Monday.
Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov said a further 26 people had been wounded in the ancient city of Bukhara late Sunday and the capital Tashkent Monday morning.
“This has been committed by the hands of international terror, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and Wahhabis,” Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev told a news conference. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to set up a pan-Islamic state that would include post-Soviet Central Asia, and the austere Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam are both outlawed in Uzbekistan.
“That’s the hallmark of the terrorist acts we have already witnessed abroad,” Safayev said. “Attempts are being made to split the international anti-terror coalition.”
Kadyrov said three policemen and one child died in two suicide bomb attacks in Tashkent. Both female suicide bombers also died.
He said that late Sunday about 10 people had died in a blast at an apartment block in Bukhara, some 600 km (375 miles) southwest of Tashkent, when a “terrorist” was preparing an explosive device.
Kadyrov also said that three policemen were killed in overnight shoot-outs with “suspected terrorists.”
Uzbekistan is a close Washington ally in the U.S.-led “war on terror” in neighboring Afghanistan (news – web sites). It provided a key airbase for U.S. troops in operations there following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on the United States.
A series of killings of officials in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley in 1997 was blamed on Islamic extremists and led to severe restrictions on any non-state-sponsored Islamic activity.
Under hard-line President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan has been sharply criticized by human rights bodies and some West European nations for its intolerance of any opposition and the harsh treatment meted out to political and religious prisoners.
A United Nations (rapporteur on torture has said that torture is “systematic” in jails in the impoverished Central Asian nation of 25 million. But Karimov retorts that he has to be tough to stop the creeping influence of militant Islam from neighboring Afghanistan.
Tashkent, which has a population of some three million, has been subject to extremely tight security controls since February 1999 when a series of blasts in the center of the city killed 16 and wounded over 100 people.
Those bomb attacks were blamed on the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is closely linked to al Qaeda which the United States holds responsible for the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Update: Make that 21