Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 3

A car bomb and an arson attack in the Tajik capital Dushanbe have placed the administration on edge in the run-up to the parliamentary elections due at the end of February. On January 31, a Volga sedan parked outside the Emergencies Ministry blew up, killing the driver and wounding four bystanders. This was followed a few hours later by a fire at the Security Ministry, which, according to a report by the Russian RIA-Novosti news agency, broke out in a room housing the ministry’s archives (https://en.rian.ru).

Early instincts to downplay the incidents were soon overruled by official investigations that pointed to terrorism as the cause. Speculation swiftly turned to Islamic radicals — a suicide bomb is not ruled out — given the raised levels of tensions that underpinned a January 14 U.S. State Department announcement warning of Islamic radical activity. The government is pointing to the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), the only Islamist group known to be operating in Tajikistan. The day before the bombing, RIA Novosti reported that two members of HuT had been picked up for attempting to distribute anti-government materials. HuT issued a denial of involvement, posted on the Muslim Uzbekistan website on February 3, insisting that it “does not engage in terrorism, violence or armed struggle” (www.muslimuzbekistan.com).

Failing a clear connection between HuT and the bombing, analysts do not discount the link with the elections, given that blaming Islamic radicals will damage one of the main opposition organizations, the Islamic Renaissance Party. But at the same time observers have detected frustration among HuT members with the non-violent approach, and fear potential ties with al-Qaeda. A recent al-Qaeda video distributed in Afghanistan specifically threatened attacks in Tajikistan.