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Swedish Prosecutor Says Evidence Suggests Uzbek Regime Behind Imam's Shooting

"I think we have a lot of indications that the attack was ordered in Uzbekistan," says Swedish prosecutor Krister Petersson. (file photo)
"I think we have a lot of indications that the attack was ordered in Uzbekistan," says Swedish prosecutor Krister Petersson. (file photo)

A Swedish prosecutor says there is abundant evidence suggesting that Uzbek authorities were behind a February 2012 assassination attempt against an outspoken emigre cleric who was critical of President Islam Karimov's government.

Obidkhon Qori Nazarov, an imam who was granted asylum in Sweden in 2006 after fleeing Uzbekistan in 1998, was shot at least three times in the town of Stromsund, where he lives. Relatives have told RFE/RL that he suffers from brain damage as a result of the attack.

Prosecutor Krister Petersson told RFE/RL on September 2 that "there is a lot of evidence and facts that point to the Uzbek regime [being] behind this."

Petersson questioned why he has received "no support" from the Uzbek government in solving a crime whose victim they saw as "a terrorist."

"If I had such a suspect, I would really like to get my hands on him. But in the summer of 2011 the Uzbek authorities said they discontinued...their international warrant for [Nazarov]. And seven months later he is shot here in Sweden," the prosecutor said in English.

"I can also draw my conclusions from the fact that I have received no support whatsoever, no cooperation whatsoever from the Uzbek authorities, which leads me to think that they don’t want me to find out the truth about this," he said. "So I think we have a lot of indications that the attack was ordered in Uzbekistan."

Petersson also told RFE/RL that Yury Zhukovsky, an Uzbek citizen who was extradited to Sweden from Russia last week and is being questioned as a suspect in the attack on Nazarov, had denied any involvement.

Petersson emphasized that Zhukovsky, 37, has not been proven guilty and said investigators "have yet to connect the suspect with the Uzbek authorities. He added: "That will be done during coming interviews or interrogations with him."

Nazarov was one of the most popular imams in Central Asia in the early 1990s and a cause of concern for the government of Karimov, an authoritarian leader who observers say sees strong religious faith as a challenge to his control.

Nazarov left Tashkent for Kazakhstan after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of religious extremism and terrorism in 1998.

In March 2006, he arrived in Sweden, where he received political asylum after the UN concluded that Nazarov was a victim of political persecution by the Uzbek authorities and needed to be protected.

Tashkent continued to seek Nazarov's extradition at the time, also accusing him of helping organize -- from abroad -- deadly bombings near the government bulding in Tashkent on February 16, 1999.

Petersson also said that investigators are expecting the results of Zhukovsky's DNA tests from a forensic lab to compare them with DNA samples found at the crime scene and on some items presumably left by the attacker.

Swedish authorities tried a married Uzbek couple they accused of involvement in the attack, but a court in the northern town of Ostersund found them not guilty in July 2012.

The couple reportedly testified to having helped someone locate Nazarov, and to having visited the mosque in Stromsund where he served as imam. But they claimed at the trial that they were not aware of any plan to kill the cleric.

The suspect in the shooting was identified in court papers as "Jukovskiy," a variant of the Latin spelling of the name Zhukovsky.

Petersson told RFE/RL that the couple, identified as Bahodir Pulatov and Nodira Aminova, had left Sweden for Uzbekistan earlier this year -- a development that would prevent them from testifying in person if Zhukovsky is tried.

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