Six car bombs–one of them intended to kill President Islam Karimov and cabinet ministers–exploded yesterday in central Tashkent between 10:52 a.m. and 12:00 local time. A preliminary casualty toll recorded fourteen killed and 128 injured among ordinary residents. The first and most powerful bomb damaged and set on fire the 200-meter-long, six-story government building. Other blasts went off outside the new Central Bank building, Internal Affairs Ministry headquarters and other public edifices. Several administrative and apartment buildings were severely damaged.
A session of the cabinet of ministers under Karimov’s chairmanship was supposed to have been held at 11:00 a.m. in the government building. The bomb, which went off a few minutes earlier, missed its intended victims. That attack bore the hallmarks of a suicide operation–the perpetrators driving their explosives-laden car through a security cordon and approaching the government building under police gunfire. One or several terrorists apparently managed to jump from the car and disappear during the firefight.
A composed and defiant Karimov promptly made a brief appearance on national television, met journalists in the square outside the burning government building, chaired an emergency session of the cabinet of ministers in the parliament building and addressed the country again on television in the evening. He blamed the attack on unspecified opponents of the country’s independence, operating from outside the country through internal agents. He also lashed out at Islamic fundamentalism, as he often does in far less dramatic circumstances. Vowing that the country will “continue on its chosen course,” the president asked the populace to both avoid panic and display unity in rebuffing terrorism.
Tashkent has remained calm in the wake of the attacks. Army and security troops using armored vehicles are patrolling the city and have set up checkpoints. Chiefs of the law enforcement agencies seem for the moment unable to offer more than general speculation about the source of and motives for the attack. “Islamic extremism” is a plausible and handy suspect, but such groups are also apt to serve as proxies for less than devout external forces.
The presidents of Russia, Ukraine and three Central Asian countries telephoned Karimov to express their moral support and their indignation at the terrorist attacks. Tajik president Imomali Rahmonov was not reported to have called (Uzbek TV and radio, AP, Reuters, Itar-Tass, February 16).
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