(Washington, D.C. April 9, 2004) Terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan last week appear to have targeted the Uzbek police, a national agency ripe with corruption, three experts told an RFE/RL audience yesterday. Uzbek officials had reported that over the course of five days 33 terrorists, 10 policemen and 4 civilians were killed. The panel, which included Daniel Kimmage, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Regional Analyst for Central Asia; Muborak Tashpulatova, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); and Adolat Najimova, director of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service all expressed skepticism of claims by Uzbek government officials that the attacks were caused by international terrorism networks.
The suicide bombing attacks did not fit the pattern of an "Al-Qaeda attack," said Kimmage, stressing that Al-Qaeda focuses on so-called soft targets seeking massive civilian casualties. While positing three theories as to the motives for the attacks, Kimmage cautioned that there were few independent sources of information about the incidents. There are three theories: 1. the possibility that they were protests against poor conditions in Uzbekistan; 2. they might have been part of an attempt to spark a popular uprising; or 3. they were part of a conspiracy by various sets of actors either domestic or foreign. The problem with the first two theories, Kimmage said, is that there was no message released to the public, nor any attempt to seize a radio or television facility to promote a wide-spread rebellion. Kimmage emphasized that theories abound as to who conducted the attacks and their motives, but little evidence exists which can be corroborated by independent sources.
Tashpulatova agreed that the chronology of the attacks shows that the police were the targets. Unlike a similar wave of terrorist acts in February 1999, there has been no widespread condemnation of the attacks by the Uzbek public which has grown tired and cynical of the "metastasized corruption" of the police. Tashpulatova said that although the government has "no political support," there is no domestic opposition, and party programs have "nothing tangible." Furthermore, she said, the Uzbek economic situation is deteriorating, as unemployment and poverty increase and "young people have no hope" and highly-qualified professionals have few work opportunities. Tashpulatova said that half of the political prisoners in Uzbekistan are charged with "religious crimes" which are similar to the Soviet era laws which characterized religion as a threat to society. Noting that "ordinary people [in Uzbekistan] take very seriously statements of the U.S. on democracy," yet when they see that Muslims can be put in prison for religious views, "this can raise the issue if the fight against terrorism is a fight against Islam." She expressed disappointment with early U.S. government statements about these most recent attacks which she called "hasty and not accurate."
The lack of reliable sources and coverage about the attacks left the public in Uzbekistan "unsettled," according to Najimova. She said that official information was sparse and sometimes contradictory, and "there were no reports from the ministries until Friday when the Prosecutor General blamed foreign media for exaggerating reports." According to an RFE/RL correspondent in Uzbekistan, people are not only scared, but angry as a result of the lack of information presented to them. Local FM radio stations were prohibited from presenting news about the attacks, which served to fuel the rumor mill in Uzbekistan.
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