Blasts Hit U.S. and Israeli Embassies
Shamil Baigin – Reuters July 30, 2004
TASHKENT – Suspected suicide bombers have struck the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan as well as the state prosecutor's office, killing two local guards at the Israeli mission and wounding nine other people.
The clearly coordinated blasts in the capital Tashkent came four days after the authoritarian ex-Soviet state, a U.S. ally in the "war on terror", put 15 suspected al Qaeda followers on trial for bomb attacks in March that killed nearly 50 people.
U.S. and Israeli officials said the three bombers seemed to approach the buildings on foot as business was winding up for the day. A U.S. intelligence official said they were probably sent by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which came close to assassinating President Islam Karimov five years ago.
"One policeman and one security guard who were guarding the embassies were killed. Nine people were injured. Two of them are in a serious condition," the Uzbek Interior Ministry said on Friday.
An Israeli security source told Reuters: "The attacker came as close as possible to the door, saw the Uzbek security men and then detonated himself." Sources said one of the dead was the ambassador's personal bodyguard, the other an embassy guard.
Body parts and flesh lay outside the embassy and windows were shattered in houses opposite.
A man blew himself up in the lobby of the prosecutor's office, wounding five people, Interior Minister Zakirdzhon Almatov said.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said there had been no injuries confirmed among staff there. The bomb had detonated outside.
Fear of Radical Islam
Karimov, who has brooked no challenge to his rule since Communist times, was visiting Ukraine's Crimean peninsula but would rush home overnight, local officials said.
Uzbekistan's 26 million people are mostly nominally Muslim, although decades of Soviet atheism has made observance patchy.
The president tolerates only state-sponsored clerics in mosques and has cracked down on unauthorised religious activity which he says threatens to import the sort of radical Islam once practised across the Afghan border by the Taliban.
He has won support from the United States by allowing U.S. troops to set up a base in the country but his human rights record has caused controversy in Washington, which this month suspended aid to Tashkent because of rights abuses.
The three buildings targeted are spread across the modern city of two million located in the heart of arid Central Asia.
Israeli ambassador Zvi Cohen said he and three other Israeli officials were in the building at the time along with two local security guards. Security had been stepped up since the earlier bombings wrought havoc in Uzbekistan in March.
Israel's Foreign Ministry confirmed no embassy workers or other Israelis were hurt in the blast. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, it said in a statement.
"The world is confronted with a wave of terrorism," Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner told Reuters. "There is an absolute need to unite all efforts to combat this scourge.”
Last updated 03/08/2004