Man with fake bomb killed at embassy in Tashkent
Guards shoot man dead outside embassy in Uzbek capital; no other injuries; 2004 bombings hit Israeli and U.S. embassies in city.
A suspected bomber was shot and killed Friday morning outside the Israeli embassy in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent as unrest racked the eastern part of the country, according to the U.S. embassy and Israel's Foreign Ministry.
The Israeli ambassador, in a conversation with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, confirmed a report by an Uzbek police official who said the suspect was carrying wooden objects that only appeared to be explosives, Israel Radio reported.
The clothing of the suspected bomber, who was wearing an overcoat, aroused the suspicion of the guards outside the embassy, who called for him to halt. When he continued approaching the building, they shot him in the leg.
The suspect continued moving toward the embassy, and was shot and killed by the guards.
The five Israeli staff members at the embassy were inside the building at the time of the incident and there were no injuries.
The incident is being investigated.
A mission of Israeli businesspeople that was slated to head for Uzbekistan on Sunday postponed its trip in the wake of the Tashkent incident.
Shalom said he ordered security measures boosted at Israeli diplomatic missions around the world. He also told the radio that the Tashkent Jewish community went on alert following the Friday morning incident.
Shalom said the high alert - entailing stepped up patrols at each embassy - was in place until further notice. "There are many groups always trying to attack Israeli missions ... We have to always be prepared," Shalom said. "The alert will be continued as long as the situation warrants it."
In July 2004, three suicide bombings in the Tashkent targeted the embassies of Israel and the United States, and the general prosecutor's office. Three people, all locals, lost their lives in the attacks and eight were injured.
Hours after the 2004 bombings, the Islamic Jihad Group in Uzbekistan, which has links to Al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message on an Islamic Web site.
"A group of young Muslims carried out martyrdom operations which confused the apostate government and its infidel allies of Americans and Jews," said the message. An Uzbek police anti-terror official said then that the bombings were the work of the same extremist group behind similar strikes in Uzbekistan earlier last year.
Meanwhile, armed protesters freed inmates from a prison and security forces fired into the air as thousands of activists rallied in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan to protest the trial of 23 Muslim businessmen on extremism charges, witnesses said.
Nine people were reported killed and 34 wounded in armed clashes.
Some 80 percent of Uzbekis are Muslim, mostly Sunni.
The chief rabbi of Uzbekistan told Israel Radio he feared for the fate of the Jewish community in Andijan following the outbreak of violence. The rabbi said he had not been able to contact community representatives via telephone.
Armed crowds in Andijan surrounded police in two city districts on Friday and talks were underway to free them, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing President Islam Karimov's office.
Karimov and other leaders were flying to Andijan, while the Defense Ministry held an urgent meeting on the unrest, police and government officials said on condition of anonymity.
The city's administrative buildings remained under government control, the officials said.
"The people have risen," said Valijon Atakhonjonov, the brother of one of defendants in the trial.
Atakhonjonov, reached by telephone from Tashkent, described chaos in the streets of Andijan, with shots being fired into the air by security forces and thousands of people massing in front of the local administration building.
However, a government spokesman in Andijan, also reached by telephone, said city and regional administrative buildings remained under government control.
Armed demonstrators went to a prison to free inmates overnight, Atakhonjonov said, but he could not confirm reports that the crowd had attacked an army garrison as well.
The 23 defendants are charged with anti-constitutional activity and forming a criminal and extremist organization, but rights activists say the case is part of a broad government crackdown on religious dissent. All of the defendants pleaded not guilty at their trial, which opened February 10.
Several thousand joined a protest on Wednesday, demanding that the 23 men be freed in one of the largest recent public shows of mounting anger over alleged rights abuses by the ex-Soviet republic's government.
Activists who joined the Wednesday protest were not responsible for the overnight attack on the prison, Atakhonjonov said.
The men, arrested in June, are accused of being members of the Akramia religious group and having contacts with the outlawed radical Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Authorities accuse Hizb-ut-Tahrir of inspiring terror attacks in Uzbekistan last year that killed more than 50. The group, which claims to eschew violence, denied responsibility.