Uzbekistan links attacks to foreigners

Evidence suggests those involved trained outside country, official says

April 03, 2004|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - A string of bombings and clashes with police this week in Uzbekistan were the work of a group with foreign ties, the chief prosecutor of the Central Asian country said yesterday.

Ten policemen, 33 suspected Islamic militants and four civilians - including three children - were killed in the series of incidents that began Sunday night when 10 people died in an explosion in the central region of Bukhara, Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov said at a news conference in Tashkent, the capital.

The 10 who died in the initial blast were militants killed when their explosives blew up prematurely, authorities said. That incident was followed over the next several days by a number of suicide bombings and clashes between suspected militants and police. Another 35 people suffered injuries, Kadyrov said.

"Investigators have obtained reliable evidence that the series of terrorist attacks were committed by the same criminal group and were organized and controlled by a single center. Most of its members underwent training outside the country," he said in comments reported by the Russian news agency Interfax. "This gives grounds to assume that the terrorist attacks committed in Uzbekistan were orchestrated by international terrorist organizations."

President Bush telephoned Uzbek President Islam Karimov yesterday morning to express condolences for the attacks.

"The president reaffirmed our commitment to continue working closely with Uzbekistan ... to win the war on terrorism," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who spoke to reporters later in the day after Bush traveled to Huntington, W.Va.

At his news conference Kadyrov did not name any group or groups suspected in the attacks, but authorities have previously said they suspect that the bombers have ties to al-Qaida.

"The law enforcement agencies are taking active measures to hunt down all the people culpable of the terrorist attacks," Kadyrov said.

Among the 33 militants who died, seven were women, Kadyrov said. Authorities have detained at least 19 suspects, including four women, he added. Weapons and ammunition were seized from the suspects, including 55 suicide bomber belts, 72 plastic containers with an explosive mixture, and more than two tons of chemicals for making bombs, he said. The weapons included seven Kalashnikov assault rifles and 11 handguns.

Human rights activists in Uzbekistan said that the government was using the sweep to detain people viewed with suspicion for other reasons.

Police are carrying out "arbitrary detentions" of "people who are on the government's list of suspicious people," Acacia Shields, senior researcher on Central Asia for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview from Tashkent. This includes people formerly imprisoned on charges of religious extremism and the relatives of current or former prisoners.

Human Rights Watch has documented the detentions of 12 such people in the past few days, of whom five were already released, she said. "Those five included three children ages 5 to 8," she said. "The other woman said they were told by the police, `Your whole family is on the list. You are Wahhabis, and we will destroy you.' " Wahhabism is the austere fundamentalist sect of Islam common in Saudi Arabia.

Some observers say the beliefs of many al-Qaida members are influenced by Wahhabism.

Talib Yakubov, chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, said in a telephone interview from Tashkent that authorities are trying to use the violence to get Western governments to overlook human rights abuses and the failure to implement democratic reforms.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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