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Uzkenistan attacks organized by international terrorists { April 2 2004 }

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Uzbekistan attacks organized by international terrorists
By the Associated Press

April 2, 2004, 2:57 PM EST

Tashkent, Uzbekistan -- The militants who launched this week's bombings and attacks in Uzbekistan trained outside the country and were controlled by a single criminal group, the top prosecutor said Friday.

Displaying suicide bomb vests and homemade explosives that he said were part of a planned terror campaign, Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov said investigators were examining religious literature found with the suspects to determine what group they belonged to.

"The majority of its members underwent military training outside our republic," Kadyrov said. "This gives us a basis to suggest that the terrorist attacks carried out in Uzbekistan were schemes masterminded by international terrorist organizations."

The series of attacks since Sunday night have killed at least 47 people -- including 33 alleged militants and 10 police.

A top Uzbek anti-terror official has told The Associated Press the militants were linked to the Wahhabi sect of Islam -- a term authorities here have also used to refer to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terror group allied with al-Qaida that battled U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Uzbek authorities were hunting for at least eight suspects -- seven men and one woman, and a high-ranking Interior Ministry official told AP more were being sought. Security was tight in Tashkent, with police checkpoints set up across the capital to search vehicles.

At least 19 people have been arrested, including four women, Kadyrov said. He said 12 have been identified, but he didn't give details. Authorities displayed at least nine Uzbek passports as having been in possession of those killed since Sunday.

Other evidence confiscated included 72 "explosive-laden belts," Kadyrov said, and more than 2 tons of aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate -- ingredients used to make explosives -- along with an assortment of electric parts required to build bombs and metal shrapnel.

"Preparation for these crimes has been going on for a long time and on a wide scale," Kadyrov said, adding that the attacks originated from "an organized criminal group led from a single center."

Officials displayed pieces of fabric cut into vest-like shapes along with taped packages stuffed with homemade explosives, next to several Kalashnikovs, pistols and bins filled with bullets.

The Interior Ministry official said he couldn't rule out more attacks, and that the bloodshed was linked to alleged terrorists who have sought refuge along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

That area was the scene of recent offensives by Pakistani troops who last month said they had injured the political leader of the IMU, Tahir Yuldash. The IMU was blamed for the 1999 attacks that killed 16 in Tashkent.

Officials said the explosives used in 1999 were similar to those used this week.

President Bush called Uzbek President Islam Karimov on Friday to express his condolences and "reaffirmed our commitment to continue working closely with Uzbekistan to win the war on terrorism," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. Hundreds of U.S. troops are at a military base in Uzbekistan, Washington's closest ally in the region.

The recent violence began with an explosion Sunday at an alleged bomb-making hideaway in the central region of Bukhara, about 280 miles southwest of Tashkent. A police officer there said Friday that authorities averted a truck bombing of a police station.

A police lieutenant at the Bukhara regional police headquarters told AP the alleged militants outside the Silk Road city of Bukhara had also planned to attack a tourism school where local officials and neighborhood activists were to meet.

The last reported blast was Thursday in the same area, killing a 10-year-old girl -- the sister of a terror suspect who died in Sunday's explosion -- and wounding his wife, Kadyrov said.

The woman, identified as Farogat Akramova, 24, was conscious and in stable condition at a hospital with facial burns and other injuries, said Dr. Abdullah Bopirov. She was under heavy guard.

At Friday prayers at the country's state-run mosques, mullahs said the attackers were un-Islamic and that suicide bombers didn't deserve funerals.

"Our president has called on these bad people to give up their evil ideas for their loved ones and for their own country," Mullah Rakhmatullo Kori told thousands of worshippers during his sermon at the Shaykh Zaynuddin mosque in Tashkent's Old City. "If anybody kills people with no reason, that that person kills the whole humanity. He will have to be punished by being eliminated from this world."

Human Rights Watch expressed concern the attacks could deepen Uzbekistan's crackdown on independent Muslims, saying 11 people who are mostly former religious prisoners and their relatives have been arrested and were being held incommunicado.
Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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