Official: Uzbek bombers trained by al-Qaida

/ Source: The Associated Press

The suspects behind a wave of suicide bombings and attacks on police in Uzbekistan got military training from Arab instructors who also taught al-Qaida fighters, the country’s top prosecutor said Friday.

Prosecutor-General Rashid Kadyrov also said the militants were influenced by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist Islamic group that claims to disavow violence, and the Islamic Movement of Turkestan — a terrorist group believed to have emerged from the remains of an Uzbek group decimated in U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.

Kadyrov did not offer any evidence or take questions from reporters at his news briefing. Uzbekistan has been keen to portray itself as the latest victim of global terrorism, but the authoritarian regime has created many enemies at home through its oppressive policies and crackdown on Muslims who worship outside state-affiliated mosques.

At least 47 people died in the recent attacks, including 33 alleged terrorists and 10 police, Uzbek officials say. The violence was the first unrest here since Uzbekistan became a key U.S. ally after the Sept. 11 attacks and allowed hundreds of American troops to use a southern military base.

Kadyrov said 45 people were under arrest and nine were under investigation in connection with four days of explosions, assaults on police and Central Asia’s first-ever suicide bombings. He said 403 people were detained and later released.

The groups behind the attacks, which began March 28, were formed in 2000 in the capital Tashkent and the surrounding region, as well as in central Bukhara province. Kadyrov referred to the alleged terror cells as a “Jamoat,” which means “society” in Uzbek, and said they aimed to overthrow the Uzbek government and establish an Islamic state.

“Investigators have data that the Jamoat’s aims and religious ideas — terrorist acts involving self-sacrifice — are based on ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir, strengthened by radical ideas of the Islamic Movement of Turkestan terrorist group and other Islamic extremist trends,” Kadyrov said.

Regional officials and analysts have described the Islamic Movement of Turkestan as an outgrowth of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan — a terror group seeking the overthrow of the secular Uzbek regime and blamed for an alleged 1999 assassination attempt on President Islam Karimov that killed 16 people.

The IMU fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001 against the U.S.-backed northern alliance, and hundreds of the IMU’s fighters were believed killed. The new group is believed to include the IMU as well as other extremist groups, including Uighur separatists from China’s predominantly Muslim Xinjiang province.

Uzbekistan has long sought to label Hizb ut-Tahrir — which seeks to establish a worldwide Islamic state — as a breeding ground for terrorists. But the group has never been linked to a terror attack, and its London office denied any involvement in the latest Uzbek attacks. Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned across Central Asia, but the U.S. government has not labeled it a terror group.

Kadyrov said the militant groups behind the attacks were headed by a single leader known as the “Great Amir” who was located outside Uzbekistan. He refused to say where.

“The leader of the criminal organization controlled and coordinated the activity of the Jamoat, maintaining ties with international terrorist groups, ensuring funding and these groups’ training at special camps,” Kadyrov said. “Their training at guerrilla camps was conducted by Arab instructors who also trained al-Qaida militants.”

The prosecutor said investigators found computer files at the home of an alleged terrorist with documents on training in “Pakistan and other states.” He claimed the militants had underground contacts in four countries, which he did not identify.

Besides a few pictures of alleged extremist literature, Uzbek authorities have not made public any concrete evidence of links between the suspects and foreign terrorist groups.

Human rights groups have expressed concerns that authorities could use the attacks to deepen a crackdown on independent Muslims in Uzbekistan.

But Kadyrov said “during the investigation, we will insure strict protection of human rights and we will make sure that no innocent people will be held responsible.”