[A-List] US imperialism: Uzbekistan
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 31 04:35:55 MST 2004
Suicide bombing and gun battles leave 23 dead in Uzbek capital
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Wednesday March 31, 2004
Twenty suspected terrorists and three policemen were killed during a suicide
bombing and two fierce shootouts around the Uzbekistan capital Tashkent
yesterday, heightening fears of further repression of Islamist
fundamentalists and new violence from them.
In the deadliest violence since the former Soviet republic joined the US-led
war on terror in 2001, authorities said police overwhelmed around 20
suspected militants holed up in a building in a northern suburb of the
The clash broke out after a woman wearing the hijab blew herself up at a
police checkpoint in the Yalangach suburb. Three other women ran into a
nearby building and a five-hour siege began. The authorities reportedly
fired rocket-propelled grenades at the building, ending the siege, although
another account said the alleged terrorists were either shot or blew
themselves up with grenades. Eleven male suspects, five women and three
policemen were killed.
Earlier, residents reported hearing five explosions and gunfire in the
capital. Lorries and armoured personnel carriers blocked the roads to the
presidential residence as troops reportedly tackled a group of eight
terrorists who attacked a police checkpoint.
The shootouts and blasts followed an explosion at an alleged terrorist's
bomb factory on Sunday, which killed 10, and two shootouts early on Monday
with the police, in which three officers died. Two suicide bombers then
attacked a market and bus stop in Tashkent, killing three police officers
and a child.
Uzbek officials have cast the 10 blasts and clashes over the past two days
as a bid to split the "international coalition in the war on terror", of
which the country has been made an honorary member for hosting a US base
near the border with neighbouring Afghanistan.
They said that the Islamic fundamentalist group Hizbut Tahrir was behind the
blasts, a group the authorities have repeatedly persecuted and tortured for
terrorism, despite the US and UK thus far considering the group non-violent.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor general said the operation to snuff out
terrorist activity was going well and that part of a cell had been rooted
The Uzbek persecution of Hizbut Tahrir, which reportedly involved some
prisoners being boiled to death, has led to insistent criticism of the
regime of President Islam Karimov from human rights groups, the Foreign
Office and the EU.
The US state department was considering recommending next month that
millions of dollars of aid - considered a payoff for hosting the Pentagon's
base - be dropped because of Uzbek police abuses.
Yesterday, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, offered US help to
investigate the violence, though Washington also signalled that it wanted
greater democratic reform.
"More democracy is the best antidote to terror," said the state department
spokesman, Richard Boucher.
Western diplomats have remained unsure as to who was behind the blasts, yet
have said that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al-Qaida affiliate,
was a likely candidate. The IMU was thought to have been broken by the US
Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, yet recently reformed its armed
units into "terror-type cells", according to one diplomat.
A sense of confusion and fear pervades the Uzbek capital, with few clear as
to who is behind the bombings. One resident, a secretary, said: "It is very
hard to know what is going on. The TV is not showing much other than press
conferences by the president. It is all very confusing."
Human rights groups warned that the attacks would unleash a further
clampdown on dissidents. They will help to dampen criticism of Uzbek police
brutalities, and may allow the US to continue funding the regime as before.
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