A series of terrorist incidents in Uzbekistan over the last 24 hours left 19 people dead and at least 26 wounded. There were two bombings, two attacks on police officers and an explosion that killed nine terrorists in a building where bombs were being assembled. The authorities captured four survivors (as well as a ton of saltpeter/aluminum powder expedient explosives).
However, other terrorists are believed still at large and may be attempting additional attacks. Later in the day, the Uzbek president blamed the Hizb ut-Tahrir group and Wahhabis terrorists and pointed out that the perpetrators had been preparing for the "terrorist acts" for at least six months. Hizb-ut-Tahrir operates openly in London and denied responsibility. If Hizb-ut-Tahrir is positively linked to these attacks, it would be the first time the group was directly involved in a terrorist attack.
The US embassy in Tashkent closed its downtown annex and suspended visa operations for the remainder of the day. The embassy also advised US citizens in the country to be on "the highest alert", since extremists may be plotting more terrorist attacks. Hundreds of Americans troops are stationed at an Uzbek air base in the southern town of Khanabad, ever since the base became a key staging point in 2001 for American operations in Afghanistan.
During a February visit, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said the United States was considering a future arrangement that would make Uzbek bases available to U.S. forces during a crisis but that America has no plans to establish a permanent presence in Uzbekistan. Both countries signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2002.
The attacks were the worst in Uzbekistan since 1999, when a series of nearly simultaneous bombings in Tashkent killed 19 and wounded over 100. Those attacks were blamed on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is based in Afghanistan and believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda.
Tahir Yuldash, the 10th most senior member of the al-Qaida terror network, is from Uzbekistan. During the fighting in Pakistan's northwestern tribal zone South Waziristan last week, Yuldash was wounded but managed to escape with his fighters. - Adam Geibel