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Corruption Watch: August 15, 2003

15 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 28
A lone suicide bomber drove a truck laden with 1 ton of explosives past a heavily guarded post on 1 August and detonated it in front of a Russian military hospital in the city of Moztok, some 56 kilometers from the border with Chechnya. At least 50 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the blast. Russian authorities blamed Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev for the attack and warned that more attacks were possible. On 2 August, Moscow was moved to a heightened state of alert, according to Interfax news agency. President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the families of the victims and added that such "evil deeds" will not derail attempts to find a political solution to the Chechen conflict.

On 3 August, Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii told Interfax that two people who sold the truck used in the bombing had been detained. By 11 August, a total of seven suspects had been detained, none of whom were charged with organizing the bombing.

According to "The New York Times" of 3 August: "Friday's bombing -- the eighth attack involving suicide bombers since mid-May and one of the deadliest -- appeared to be part of a new campaign by Chechnya's separatist guerrillas to escalate the war and extend its violence beyond the southern republic's borders."

Responding to this latest attack, "The Moscow Times" on 11 August reported that U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell placed a notice in the Federal Register that said Basaev "has committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism" against U.S. interests. The State Department said Basaev has "links" to the Al-Qaeda terror network. Together with the United Kingdom and Russia, the United States asked the United Nations to impose travel sanctions on Basaev and to block shipments of arms and financial contributions to the rebels by all UN members.

Four days later, on 5 August, a powerful car bomb exploded near the entrance to a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing at least 11 people and injuring 149 others. The explosion took place at 12:45 p.m. when, according to "The Washington Post" of 6 August, the hotel's main restaurant was filled with customers.

Initially, no group claimed responsibility for the attack. But on 12 August, the "Tehran Times" reported that in an unsigned statement sent to media organizations, Al-Qaeda took credit for the attack. The statement reportedly said: "This operation is part of a series of operations that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri has promised to carry out." The statement called the attack "a fatal slap on the face of America and its allies in Muslim Jakarta, where faith has been denigrated by the dirty American presence and the discriminatory Australian presence." Al-Zawahiri is Osama bin Laden's closest adviser, as well as his doctor. "The Washington Post" reported that "analysts said the attack was probably the work of the regional terror network [Jamaah Islamiyah], which intelligence agencies say cooperates with Osama bin Laden's [Al-Qaeda] organization."

On 9 August, "The New York Times" reported that the suicide bomber who the police say was responsible for the attack was identified as a 28-year-old recruit of Jamaah Islamiyah: "The police said that after his vehicle exploded, the head of the recruit, Asmar Latin Sani, landed on the fifth floor of the hotel. He was identified from photographs by two [Jamaah Islamiyah] operatives who had been in police custody since June, according to Jakarta's chief of detectives, Erwin Mappaseng."

The group has been targeted by Indonesian police since the terrorist attack last October on a nightclub on the island of Bali in which 202 people perished.

The same day as the Jakarta explosion, Abubakar Baasyir, the spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah, was testifying in his own defense in a trial in Jakarta. He is being tried for treason and a series of church bombings on Christmas Eve 2000. RK

Prosecutors in Ukraine opened more than 270 criminal cases in the waning days of July in connection with claims that widespread corruption and criminality are responsible for a grain deficit that has led to panic buying of basic staples throughout the country, AP reported on 31 July. The agency said Serhiy Dombrovskyy, head of the department for legal compliance at the Prosecutor-General's Office, "accused officials of corruption and misuse of state funds in failing to regulate Ukraine's food market. He also blamed traders and retailers for fueling the crisis by allegedly taking advantage of disastrous grain harvest reports to hike prices."

According to Ukrainian media reports, government officials have accused traders and farmers of intentionally inflating harvest figures and reserves to hide secret sales that aggravated the shortage. RK