Explosions, Shootouts With Uzbekistan Militants Leave 2 Dozen Dead
Fighting Comes After Uzbek Officials Blame Islamic Radicals for Attacks
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; 1:35 PM
MOSCOW, March 30 -- A series of explosions and shootouts in Uzbekistan on Tuesday left about two dozen people dead in the bloodiest wave of violence to hit the former Soviet republic since it enlisted as a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, officials and witnesses said.
Twenty suspected militants and three Uzbek police officers were killed in an hours-long confrontation that played out not far from the country home of President Islam Karimov, according to a duty officer at the Uzbek Interior Ministry reached by telephone in Tashkent, the capital.
Some of the militants were shot by Uzbek officers while others blew themselves up, witnesses said. A civilian was also killed, a witness said.
The violence came after 19 other people died in explosions and attacks Sunday and Monday that the government blamed on Islamic radicals. Uzbekistan has suffered from sporadic terrorist incidents over the last five years, but the group fingered by Uzbek officials this week denied any involvement in the latest attacks.
The latest bloodshed began Tuesday morning when two women driving a car up to a police checkpoint on the road to Karimov's official residence in northern Tashkent were stopped, got out and detonated belts of explosives, according to official accounts. Police chased other militants into a nearby residential area and surrounded buildings where they took refuge. The two sides exchanged gunfire for hours, according to officials and witnesses, with some of the militants exploding grenades to kill themselves. Another woman suicide bomber reportedly killed herself in a blast as well.
"We could see shooting and then we saw that one of the houses caught fire," Natalya Bushuyeva, an Uzbek journalist at the scene, said by telephone. "The shooting lasted for a long time. The shooting was so messy that the special services were shooting at each other."
One man who ventured out of his home was shot by militants who apparently mistook him for a police officer, she added.
Uzbekistan became a front-line partner in the U.S.-led battle against Islamic terrorism shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and the Pentagon. At Karimov's invitation, the U.S. military opened a base that it continues to use to stage operations in Afghanistan.
But Washington has criticized the secular Karimov government's harsh policies toward observant Muslims as excessive and counter-productive, threatening recently to cut off financial aid if its human rights record does not improve. At least 6,000 people remain in Uzbek prisons because of their religious or political beliefs, according to human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch issued a 300-page report Tuesday on Uzbekistan's repression of Muslims, documenting what it called "systematic torture, ill-treatment, public degradation and denial of due process." The report concluded: "Uzbekistan's campaign against independent Islam has targeted Muslims who exhibited no objective independence from the state but who were simply deemed 'too pious' by state agents."
Rummy's take on Uzbekistan:
Uploaded/Updated: 02/25/2004 12:53:29
Since the start of the U.S. offensive against Afghanistan's Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, the United States and its allies have used Uzbekistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan as rear bases for military operations.
But Rumsfeld reiterated an earlier statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell that the Pentagon had no intention of establishing permanent bases in Central Asia as part of a realignment of U.S. forces around the world.
Rumsfeld said Washington was interested in discussing military "operating sites" in the region where it might gain access for "occasional use."
Karimov, a former Communist leader, permits only state- sponsored Islam in the country of 25 million, which rights groups estimate holds some 6,000 political prisoners.
A report by the U.N. rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, found in 2002 that torture in Uzbek jails was systematic and routinely used to terrorize opponents and obtain confessions which sometimes resulted in courts giving the death penalty.
In Mukadyrova's case, which Britain's ambassador described as "simply appalling," she was jailed for anti-constitutional activity after police said they found Muslim pamphlets in her home. She had previously campaigned for justice for her dead son and distributed pictures of his scalded and mutilated corpse.
Mukadyrova was fined $280 and freed, but the government says Uzbekistan's proximity to Afghanistan and the danger of militant Islam is reason enough to crack down on Muslims at home.
Foreign Minister Sadyk Safayev, who met Rumsfeld Tuesday, said in Brussels last month that his country had implemented an action plan to crack down on torture in its jails
And of course, there's always the oil angle:
"Uzbekistan is the eighth-largest producer of natural gas in the world, but lacks the ability to export most of it. Uzbekistan currently serves as a crucial link in the gas transport chain linking Turkmenistan's enormous gas deposits with Russia.
Uzbekistan is party to the Central Asia Oil Pipeline agreement with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. If completed, the pipeline would transport oil from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and other Central Asian states via Afghanistan to Gwadar on Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast.
Uzbekistan is also party to the parallel Central Asia Gas Pipeline project, which would bring gas from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to Pakistan and India, via Afghanistan. Likewise, Uzbekistan could contribute to a proposed pipeline linking Kazakhstan and China, and has actively been seeking to participate in the project."
Note this pipeline project mentioned above was the one the Taliban wouldn't go along with before we attacked Afganistan:
As described in many accounts, notably the recently published
"Osama Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth" by Jean Charles Brisard and
Guillaume Dasique, the CentGas consortium led by Unocal had plans
for a 1,005 mile oil pipeline and a 918 mile natural gas pipeline
from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. This project
stalled because of the political instability in Afghanistan.
In August 2001, George W. Bush revived negotiations with the
Journalist William Rivers Pitt notes that, "intense scrutiny has
shaken loose two e-mails sent by Enron's Ken Lay to his employees
in August of last year. In them, Lay waxes optimistic about the
strength and stability of his company, and exhorts his employees
to buy into the company's stock program." Pitt believes that,
"while many observers view this as the gasping lies of a drowning
criminal", Lay's messages must be considered in light of the
timing: His last e-mail was sent on August 27th, about the same
time as the final Taliban meeting with the Bush administration.
Was Kenneth Lay anticipating a significant piece of a new pipeline
deal, and an Enron contract, courtesy of George W. Bush?
After the Taliban refused the Bush administration's "carpet of
gold", America dropped its "carpet of bombs" on Afghanistan,
allegedly in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Was Ken
Lay also anticipating a war, and a way to profit from it?
Former Unocal lobbyist Hamid Karzai now heads a bombed and gutted
Afghanistan. Bush's US envoy is Zalmay Khalizad, another former
Unocal representative, who helped draw up the plans for the
original CentGas pipeline. Pipeline projects have resumed.
The rest of this is very interesting.