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Uzbekistan: Official Says At Least 19 Killed, 26 Injured In Blasts

Prague, 29 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek officials say a series of terrorist attacks -- including bombings and shootings -- killed some 19 people and injured at least 26 others.

Uzbek Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov told reporters that 10 people were killed in a blast at a house used by suspected extremists in the city of Bukhara.

He said there were also two attacks on police last night and early today, killing three policemen. As many as two suicide bombings at Tashkent's Chorsu bazaar killed another three policemen and a young child.

They were reportedly the country's first-ever suicide-bomb attacks.

Kadyrov blamed the attacks on Islamic extremists -- singling out the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. "We have enough information today that proves that this organization [the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] is linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Wahhabis -- I mean the movement [a reporter] just referred to as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," he said.

He said that authorities have one person in custody and are searching for other suspects.

Imran Waheed, a spokesperson for Hizb ut-Tahrir in London, today denied his group's involvement. He said Hizb ut-Tahrir was nonviolent and condemned the killing of innocent civilians: "Our understanding of the whole issue is that attacking innocent civilians is condemned by Islam. So it is unacceptable this attack in Tashkent and we know historically that in the past the government has orchestrated several such attacks itself in order to crack down on peaceful and nonviolent Islamic movements, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, as we saw previously with the bombings in Tashkent a few years ago."

Waheed was referring to the 1999 bomb attack in the Uzbek capital that killed 16 people. That attack was later blamed on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist group with suspected links to Al-Qaeda.

Uzbek television reported that a special government commission has been set up to investigate the bombings: "For the investigation of these and similar acts pursuing far-reaching goals, carried out by terrorist groups, a special government commission has been created under the leadership of the president of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The commission includes senior officers of the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Interior Ministry, the National Security Service. Similar commissions have been created in all the regions of the republic under the leadership of the regional governors, heads of the regional law enforcement agencies and leading counterterrorism specialists."

While Uzbek officials were quick to blame Islamic extremists, an opposition party in Uzbekistan said the government itself was at least partly responsible for the violence because of its repressive policies.

Muhammad Salih, the leader of the opposition Erk party, said: "We condemn terror, with no regard where it comes from -- from private persons, political or religious groups or from the state. The political regime of Uzbekistan, with its emphasis on repression against dissidents, has created good conditions for terror. Some groups that don't have an opportunity to fight for their ideas in a peaceful way have begun radicalizing, looking for more effective ways to fight against oppression. The approach of 'an eye for an eye' type is not a new one. Terror has killed many innocent people who have never been involved in politics. We are absolutely convinced that not a single idea can justify terror, even the idea to fight state terrorism."

The Karimov regime has been sharply criticized by international organizations and governments for repressing the opposition and meting out harsh treatment to political and religious prisoners.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, says the U.S. Embassy has warned that "other terrorists are believed still at large and may be attempting additional attacks." It cautioned Americans to be on "highest alert."

Uzbekistan has been a strong supporter of U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, and American troops are using a military base at the southern city of Khanabad for operations.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

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