Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 45

Following the February 16 terrorist bomb attacks in Tashkent, the Uzbek authorities’ search for suspects has tended to focus on Islamic radicals (see the Monitor, February 17-18, 24, 26, March 3). The authorities now seem, however, to be broadening their search to include certain secular groups as well. Extensive television and press exposes in recent days have targeted the banned Erk party, its leaders living as refugees in Turkey and its few remaining supporters in Uzbekistan. Erk chairman Mohammad Salih was an unsuccessful candidate in Uzbekistan’s 1991 presidential election.

According to the authorities’ version, Salih’s emissaries recruited twenty young men in Uzbekistan’s Kashkadaria region in 1997, brought them to Turkey ostensibly for enrollment in a business school and proceeded to send them to terrorist training camps in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Uzbek authorities are now exhibiting several alleged terrorists from that group–who confess to have filtered back to Uzbekistan in 1998, only to be arrested by the security services. The authorities, moreover, accuse Salih of cooperating with the militant Islamic group of Tahir Yuldash in “terrorist” activities against Uzbekistan.

This version appears designed not so much to elucidate the February 16 bomb attacks as to use that event as justification for the ban on Erk. Meanwhile in Ankara, the Turkish authorities have arrested an Uzbek, Rustam Manutkulov, on suspicion of direct involvement in the February 16 bomb attacks (Uzbek television, March 1; Pravda vostoka (Tashkent), March 4; Itar-Tass, March 4).

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