Suicide bombers target U.S., Israeli embassies; two Uzbeks killed

Friday, July 30th 2004, 8:44 am
By: News On 6

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) _ Suicide bombers staged nearly simultaneous attacks outside the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as the top prosecutor's office Friday, killing at least two Uzbek guards and wounding seven others in Uzbekistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

The two local guards were killed at the Israeli Embassy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov said. Five others were injured in the blast at the prosecutor general's office, and two more were hurt at the U.S. Embassy, he said. No foreigners were hurt.

The attacks occurred as 15 suspects with alleged links to al-Qaida were being tried for a wave of violence earlier this year that left at least 47 people dead. Those attacks included Central Asia's first-ever suicide bombings.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan, has allowed hundreds of U.S. troops to use a southern air base that was instrumental in ousting the Taliban regime. Uzbek President Islam Karimov runs a strict regime that has sought to wipe out Islamic extremism and allows no opposition to his rule, which dates to Soviet times.

Outside the heavily fortified American compound, a body believed to be that of a suicide bomber lay across the street from the entrance. The tall security wall surrounding the compound appeared to be scarred with black burn marks, and the area was blocked off by heavily armed police and soldiers.

Nargiza Usmanova, who operates a flower kiosk down the street, said the ``building jumped'' when the explosion went off. She said she had seen several people lying in the street after the blast, and they appeared to have survived the blast because they were still moving.

The U.S. Embassy said two Uzbek police officers were injured.

All three suicide bombers in the afternoon attacks were men, Zakirov said, and one had identification documents indicating he was an Uzbek citizen.

Debris littered the street outside the Israeli Embassy, also under heavy guard. A window appeared to have been broken, but the tall wall protecting the building didn't appear to suffer any serious damage. Israeli Ambassador Tzvi Cohen told Israel Radio that all Israeli personnel were safe inside.

A nearby resident who said he arrived at the scene before police, Konstantin Ivanov, said he saw four severed hands lying in the street. He ran to the scene after hearing the blast, which he said sent a large cloud of smoke into the air.

Many Jews have left Uzbekistan since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but it is still home to a sizable community.

The 15 suspects on trial for the March and April violence that killed 47 have pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism, murder and religious extremism and could face the death penalty.

Several of the suspects have said the U.S. and Israeli embassies had been intended targets in the wave of explosions that officials say killed 33 alleged militants, 10 police and four bystanders.

In testimony at the trial that started Monday, defendants described a network of Islamic extremists extending into Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, where they said would-be militants were trained in shooting and how to use airplanes in attacks.

They claimed to belong to an extremist group called Jamoat, which means ``society'' in Uzbek, whose leader previously fought with the al-Qaida-connected Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. However, he broke ties with the IMU in forming the new group.

Early Friday, Pakistani officials announced the arrest of al-Qaida suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, whose wife is Uzbek. Ghailani was wanted in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.