At 5:00 pm on Friday, July 30, suicide bombers detonated explosives near the Embassies of the United States and Israel and in the vicinity of the building housing Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor General’s Office. The bombings claimed the lives of one local police officer and one employee of the National Security Service (former KGB). Nine people were wounded, two critically. The U.S. and Israeli embassy buildings suffered little damage from the explosions, but the lobby of the Prosecutor’s Office sustained substantial structural damage.
The attacks came four days after the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan began the trial of the accused organizers of a series of terrorist acts in March and April 2004, which claimed dozens of lives. The 15 defendants, including two women, are charged with terrorism, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, and religious extremism. The defendants pled guilty at their first court hearing, and one-by-one began to make statements about their ties with extremist organizations, including al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. One defendant, 22-year-old Farkhod Kazakbaev, admitted that Zhamoat (Society), the network of extremist groups allegedly operating in Uzbekistan, has ties with both al-Qaeda and Hizb-ut-Tahrir. According to Kazakbaev, this terrorist network is headed by Nasriddin Jalalov of Uzbekistan, who reports to the leader of Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Jalalov is under criminal investigation by the Uzbekistani authorities, which have issued an arrest warrant for him. However, the authenticity of the defendants’ confessions is highly doubtful. According to Allison Gill, the Human Rights Watch representative in Tashkent, “We are concerned about the way this trial is unfolding. For instance, the defendants’ lawyers are practically very passive. One is left with the impression that they are appointed for formal reasons in order to create the impression of a democratic trial” (private communication).
One day after the terrorist attacks, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov blamed the explosions on Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT). This snap judgment came as a surprise. Even though HUT is famous for its explicitly anti-Western and anti-Semitic statements, this organization has repeatedly stressed that it operates by peaceful means only. Karimov’s statement may be an effort to justify a crackdown against HUT members.
Significantly, the majority of Tashkent residents interviewed for this article were inclined to justify the actions of the terrorists. Their resentment is a reaction to the country’s appalling economic conditions and the massive corruption of the Uzbekistani authorities. The standard of living in Uzbekistan is one of the lowest of all CIS countries; salaries average less than $20 per month and half that figure in rural areas. Villagers can scarcely afford to buy meat, and they mix fodder with flour to bake bread. The extreme level of poverty is the direct result of state economic policies. Corruption is also a fact of daily life. Bribes are taken on almost every transaction. The Uzbekistani police seek out not only Uzbek villagers arriving in the cities, but also foreign tourists, who are also easy targets for extracting bribes.
In this environment, more and more of the population are becoming convinced that any method for ousting the Karimov regime is justified. Tashkent residents interviewed for this article repeatedly stated, “It is simply impossible to carry on, we are tired and we are ready for anything.”
Thus far terrorism has had little impact on everyday life in Tashkent. The only visible changes are increased police patrols on the streets and the thorough inspection of all vehicles entering the city by the armed military. But because the root causes of terrorism still have not been addressed, it is hard to guarantee that the tragedy will not be repeated in the near future.