Central Asia: March 31, 2004

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: Uzbekistan's crackdown against suspected Islamic militants is being described as a new flank in the "war on terror". The death toll from incidents in Tashkent and Bukhara has risen to 42 since the night of March 28, with at least 22 killed in a third day of violence. State-run TV that 20 terrorists and three police were killed in the confrontations beginning around 7:20 AM. Police stopped a small car and two terrorists jumped out, detonating explosive-laden belts that killed themselves and three police, while wounding five more officers. 

Nearby, a woman blew herself up after refusing to heed police orders to stop approaching a bus. Three women who had been in a car with that bomber fled to a nearby apartment building near the official residence of President Islam Karimov in the capital, Tashkent. During the five-hour standoff with the police, 11 suspected male and five female terrorists were killed. 

A witness told the Associated Press that five suspects escaped and that the women from the car wearing veils revealing only their eyes (rare in secular Uzbekistan) were speaking a different Central Asian language. This merely adds to the mystery of which group is behind the recent violence. 

While President Karimov has pointed the finger at Hizb-ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation, a group that calls for the creation of a Muslim caliphate), another possibility is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) The IMU, already linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, is based in the eastern Fergana valley straddling the Kyrgyzstan border. The IMU was blamed for a failed bomb attack on President Karimov that killed at least 16 people. The United States offered  to assist Uzbekistan in its investigations. - Adam Geibel


 

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