TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) – Suicide bombers staged nearly simultaneous attacks outside the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as the top prosecutor’s office Friday, killing at least two Uzbek guards and wounding nine others in Uzbekistan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

The two local guards were killed at the Israeli Embassy, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ilkhom Zakirov said. Seven others were injured in the blast at the prosecutor general’s office, and two more were hurt at the U.S. Embassy, he said. No foreigners were hurt.

A group calling itself the Islamic Holy War Group in Uzbekistan claimed responsibility for the attacks, posting a message Friday on an Islamic Web site known for carrying statements from militant groups.

“A group of young Muslims carried out martyrdom operations that confused the apostate government and its infidel allies of Americans and Jews,” the group said. The statement in Arabic said attacks would continue, and was signed by “your brother in Bukhara: Mohammed al-Fatteh.”

The claim couldn’t be verified, and Zakirov said the government hadn’t received any claim of responsibility and didn’t know of the group.

All three suicide bombers in the afternoon attacks were men, Zakirov said, and one had identification documents indicating he was an Uzbek citizen.

Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov said the bombers were prevented from entering the buildings of their targets to inflict more damage. “Terrorists wanted to blow themselves up inside the buildings, but they weren’t allowed,” Almatov told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The attacks occurred as 15 suspects with alleged links to al-Qaida were being tried for a wave of violence earlier this year that left at least 47 people dead. Those attacks included Central Asia’s first-ever suicide bombings.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan, has allowed hundreds of U.S. troops to use a southern air base that was instrumental in ousting the Taliban regime. Uzbek President Islam Karimov runs a strict regime that has sought to wipe out Islamic extremism and allows no opposition to his rule, which dates to Soviet times.

He was returning immediately from vacationing in the Crimean resort city of Yalta in Ukraine.

Outside the heavily fortified American compound, a body believed to be that of a suicide bomber lay across the street from the entrance. The tall security wall surrounding the compound appeared to be scarred with black burn marks, and the area was blocked off by heavily armed police and soldiers.

Nargiza Usmanova, who operates a flower kiosk down the street, said the “building jumped” when the explosion went off. She said she had seen several people lying in the street after the blast, and they appeared to have survived the blast because they were still moving.

The U.S. Embassy said two Uzbek police officers were injured, and U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said: “The United States deplores this act of terrorist violence.”

The attack at the prosecutor’s office appeared to cause the most damage, blowing out windows at the entrance and leaving roof panels and lights hanging from the ceiling, scattering debris into the street.

Debris littered the street outside the Israeli Embassy, also under heavy guard. A window appeared to have been broken, but the tall wall protecting the building didn’t appear to suffer any serious damage.

Israel was sending an investigative team to Uzbekistan to investigate the bombing, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. One of those killed at the embassy was the ambassador’s personal bodyguard, Israel’s Channel Two television reported.

A nearby resident who said he arrived at the scene before police, Konstantin Ivanov, said he saw four severed hands lying in the street. He ran to the scene after hearing the blast, which he said sent a large cloud of smoke into the air.

Many Jews have left Uzbekistan since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but it is still home to a sizable community.

Security was being reinforced up at all embassies in Tashkent, along with stricter searches at the checkpoints that always guard entrances to the city, Zakirov said.

The 15 suspects on trial for the March and April violence that killed 47 have pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism, murder and religious extremism and could face the death penalty.

Several of the suspects have said the U.S. and Israeli embassies had been intended targets in the wave of explosions that officials say killed 33 alleged militants, 10 police and four bystanders.

In testimony at the trial that started Monday, defendants described a network of Islamic extremists extending into Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, where they said would-be militants were trained in shooting and how to use airplanes in attacks.

They claimed to belong to an extremist group called Jamoat, which means “society” in Uzbek, whose leader previously fought with the al-Qaida-connected Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. However, he broke ties with the IMU in forming the new group.

Early Friday, Pakistani officials announced the arrest of al-Qaida suspect Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, whose wife is Uzbek. Ghailani was wanted in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

AP-ES-07-30-04 1402EDT



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