Suicide bombers attack embassies

Blasts kill 2 local guards at U.S., Israeli buildings in Uzbekistan, a key ally

July 31, 2004|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Suicide bombers struck the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan yesterday, killing two local guards and injuring at least nine others in the second wave of attacks this year against a key U.S. ally during the war in Afghanistan.

The prosecutor general's office also was hit in the coordinated afternoon attacks in the capital city of Tashkent. It sustained more damage than either of the embassies, where guards prevented bombers from entering the buildings.

The attacks came as 15 Muslim militants linked to al-Qaida went on trial for a series of bombings in March that killed 47 people.

The latest explosions caused relatively little physical damage but rattled the security of a country where the United States has maintained a crucial air base for the battle against Islamic militants in neighboring Afghanistan.

On a residential side street, the body of an apparent bomber lay near a small crater outside the heavily guarded American embassy compound. Streets around the facility were cordoned off for much of the evening as the investigation got under way.

"Something exploded with a very loud noise in front of the American embassy at about 4:30 or 5 p.m.," said a nearby kiosk operator, who gave his name only as Rashid. "For a second, I thought that a nearby building must have collapsed. And I saw that one of the glass plates in my shop cracked and fell out because of the blast wave."

"I ran outside and saw that the wind was carrying away the smoke from the explosion. There was a motionless body of a man lying in the street, right in front of the embassy building. This must have been the suicide bomber," Rashid said.

Two police officers guarding the embassy were wounded, he said.

Embassy spokesman David Reinert said no embassy employees were injured.

At the prosecutor general's office, five people were injured when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive in or near the lobby.

"The foyer of the prosecutor's office used to have snow-white marble walls and tinted windows. It looked very civilized and stylish. Now, it has been turned into a mess - there is soot everywhere, the walls, ceiling and floor have been damaged ... the tinted windowpanes and doors have been smashed and there is glass all over the floor," Svetlana Artykova, a prosecutor's spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.

Two Uzbek officers died outside the Israeli Embassy, one an Interior Ministry officer, the other a National Security officer, the Uzbek Interior Ministry said.

An Israeli investigative team was dispatched immediately to Tashkent.

In Washington, U.S. defense spokesmen said Uzbek forces would investigate the attacks and would be primarily responsible for any military response.

Adam Ereli, a U.S. State Department spokesman, said Americans have worked closely with Uzbek troops and security forces in counterterrorism training and would aid in their investigation.

"We have a very good relationship with Uzbek security forces," Ereli said. "And so we look forward to providing whatever support we can for their investigation."

The explosions came as 15 suspects went on trial for the March attacks that left at least 47 people dead, including 33 militants. Those bombings mainly targeted Uzbek police who have been responsible for a crackdown on Islamic militants, political opponents and other citizens in this populous, primarily Muslim Central Asian nation.

The United States has relied on Uzbek cooperation for basing troops in the war on the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. But increasingly disenchanted with the Uzbek government's record on human rights, the U.S. State Department announced on July 13 that it was preparing to cut $18 million a year in military and economic assistance to Uzbekistan.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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