the Disillusioned kid: Explosions in Tashkent
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Friday, July 30, 2004

Explosions in Tashkent

I've just started using Google News. It's actually pretty good and brings together reports from media around the world. Today's top story is a series of suicide bombings in Uzbekistan, a country I've written about on various occasions before. For anyone who's interested, the following is what seem to have happened.

Most of the reports seem to be based on limited information at the moment, but it appears that suicide bombers struck the US and Israeli embassies and the state prosecutor's office. According to the Uzbek Interior Ministry, "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." Reuters also cites "sources" who say that one of the dead was the Israeli ambassador's personal bodyguard and the other an embassy guard. It appears however, that the two deaths occurred at the Israeli mission.

The blasts coincide with the trial of 15 suspected Islamic militants accused of involvement in a wave of violence in the country in March and April of this year, which included Central Asia's first suicide bombing. According to the Guardian the suspects have pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism, murder and religious extremism and could face the death penalty. Apparently several of those suspects have also claimed that their intended targets had been the Israeli and US embassies. It's worth recalling at this point that torture in Uzbekistan is widespread and anything said by suspects in detention in the country should be treated in the light.

Israeli government spokesman, Avi Pazner's comment, "An attack has been carried out in Uzbekistan against American and Israeli targets, meaning three different countries are hit today by the same people who hate democracy and freedom," seems a little disingenuous. Quite apart from the reasons for opposition to the policies of the Israeli and US governments, a subject for another post perhaps, to suggest that Uzbekistan is somehow a paragon of "democracy and freedom" is ridiculous. It is instead a de facto dictatorship complete with fully equipped torture chambers. Nonetheless I have no illusions about the kind of groups probably responsible for these attacks.

That these attacks have all the hallmarks of an Islamic extremist groups, goes without saying. The choice of targets is also consistent with the ideology and grievances of these groups. The question arises however, who carried it out? Apparently "a US intelligence official" believes the attacks were carried out by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). However after the March attacks much was made of how IMU had been seriously, perhaps fatally, weakened by US operations in Afghanistan. (The Uzbek government originally tried to pin the blame for those attacks on Hizb-ut-Tahir, another Islamic group, but one apparently committed to nonviolence. These claims do not appear to have been very credible, but may have been an attempt to legitimise a crackdown on the group.) An alternative possibility is suggested by the article in The Hindu which claims that those standing trial for the attacks earlier this year have claimed to belong to a group called Jamoat, which translates as "society" in Uzbek, whose leader fought with the IMU, but later broke his ties with it and formed the new group.

Whoever carried out the attacks it seems clear that the Karimov regimes brutal crackdown on Islamic extremism which has included the incaceration of 7-10,000 suspected Islamic extremists, vicious tortures and the restriction of freedoms has failed to stop the emergence of terrorist groups within the country. It may even have fuelled it. There is, in short, no justification for this kind of brutality. It is time to stop pussy footing around with Karimov and demand that he and his government sort out their act, in the same way we do with governments who don't serve our strategic interests (Iraq, Iran, North Korea etc.). Consider, for instance, the difference between the treatment Castro's Cuba and Karimov's Uzbekistan, pointed out by James S. Henry at Submerging Markets™. Doesn't seem very consistent to me.

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