Uzbek authorities have arrested at least 85 individuals following the late July suicide bombings in Tashkent. The crackdown is continuing amid uncertainty over what Islamic radical group carried out the attacks.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has vowed that a state commission will "track down [the] roots" of the July 30 bombings at the US and Israeli embassies and the Uzbek prosecutor general's office. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Meanwhile, state prosecutors alleged that all of the 85 individuals, including 17 women, taken into custody so far had undergone training to be suicide bombers.
A representative of the Uzbek prosecutor's office, Alisher Muhammedov, said the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had established terrorist cells throughout the country, according to an August 1 report by the Itar-Tass news agency. Other reports also focused on the IMU as the likely instigator of the bombings. The militant group carried out armed incursions in 1999 and 2000, but has been largely dormant until recently. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Karimov, however, dismissed speculation concerning the IMU's responsibility. Instead, the Uzbek president assailed another Islamic radical group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, as the culprit. Hizb is a trans-national organization that seeks to topple Karimov's government and establish an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia through non-violent means. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Not only is Hizb responsible for the July blasts, but the group was also behind the late March violence in Tashkent in Bukhara that left at least 47 people dead, Karimov indicated. Evidence from the July and March incidents indicates "that they were organized by members of the same group, that they acted in accordance with one plan and that they were pursuing the same aim," Karimov said during a nationally broadcast address July 31.
"If the religious movement [Hizb-ut-Tahrir] intends to set up a caliphate in or Uzbekistan, overthrow the current system, give up the modern style of life and create a state based on shari'a [Islamic] law, then how will they be able to do this is a peaceful way," Karimov added during his address.
Hizb representatives issued a statement in London, site of the group's headquarters, vehemently denying involvement in the Uzbek explosions. The statement insisted that it does not engage in violent actions and instead "seeks to change people's thoughts through intelligent discussion and debate."
Uzbek authorities say those responsible for the July and March attacks received logistical help from international Islamic radical groups. "The militants trained in camps in Pakistani territory and they got there via Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Iran," Itar-Tass quoted Muhammedov, the prosecutor general's office official, as saying. Karimov and others maintain that international Islamic radical groups are seeking to destabilize Uzbekistan, which has developed into the United States' most important ally in Central Asia in the on-going anti-terrorism struggle. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
A considerable number of regional political observers and human rights activists dispute the official Uzbek view, instead asserting that the government's repressive policies are fueling a home-grown insurgency. Since a 1999 bombing incident in Tashkent, Karimov has drastically curtailed individual rights and has stifled dissenting political opinion. At the same time, the Uzbek government has avoided implementing economic reforms needed to prevent the stagnation of commerce. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive].
In a sign Uzbek authorities may be concerned about their ability to contain Islamic radical violence, Karimov, in his nationwide address, called upon all Uzbeks to become informers, reporting any suspicious activity to authorities. "You should protect not only your house but also your homeland from disasters," Karimov said. "I believe that taking into account how dangerous present-day life is, [the Uzbek people] will always be alert and vigilant and turn this into a rule of life."
Meanwhile, an Uzbek judge on August 2 suspended a trial of 15 individuals accused of involvement in the late March violence. The trial has featured the confessions of several defendants, who sparked controversy with claims that they had received weapons training at a terrorist camp in neighboring Kazakhstan.
Gen. Raimkhan Uzbekgaliev, the Interior Ministry chief for southern Kazakhstan, categorically rejected the notion that Islamic radicals maintained a camp on Kazakhstani territory. Kazakhstani state television also broadcast an interview with an "independent political analyst," Azimbay Gali, who also dismissed the accusation. "Individual mujaheddin and insurgents might have infiltrated, but the training of groups is out of the question," Gali said.
Many in Kazakhstan believe that the Uzbek government is trying to deflect attention away from its own deficiencies by casting blame on its neighbors. "The Uzbek side tries to use any occasion to show that Kazakhstani authorities can't provide security on its own territory," one Kazakhstani expert said.
Ibragim Alibekov, a Kazakhstan-based reporter, contributed to this report.