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US, Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan bombed

Prosecutor's office also hit; two dead

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Suicide bombers struck the US and Israeli embassies and the top prosecutor's office yesterday, killing at least two Uzbeks and wounding nine others in nearly simultaneous attacks in the capital.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan, is a close US ally in the war on terrorism. The attacks occurred as this majority Muslim country is trying 15 suspects allegedly tied to Al Qaeda for a wave of violence four months ago that included the firstsuicide attacks in Central Asia. The defendants in the trial have said the US and Israeli embassies were among the targets their group planned to attack.

The assailants yesterday targeted what were considered some of the most secure buildings in Tashkent, killing two guards at the Israeli Embassy and injuring seven at the general prosecutor's office and two at the US Embassy, said Ilkhom Zakirov, Foreign Ministry spokesman.

A group that claimed responsibility for the March-April violence, in which 47 people were killed, said on an Islamic website that it was behind yesterday's attacks, carried out because of the trial.

The claim, which could not be verified, was from Islamic Holy War Group and was signed by ''Your brother in Bukhara: Mohammed al-Fatteh."

Some of the defendants in the trial, which began Monday, are from the central region of Bukhara. President Islam Karimov, who came to power before the 1991 Soviet collapse, has angered fundamentalist Islamic groups by trying to stem extremism with a crackdown on Muslims who practice outside state-run mosques.

Human rights groups say more than 6,000 people have been jailed since the 1990s. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the United States, he has become the key regional US ally in the war on terror and allowed hundreds of American troops to use a southern air base -- a move that was instrumental in ousting Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

The bombings yesterday took place at around 5 p.m., within 10 minutes of one another, and in locations scattered around this city of more than 2 million. All three bombers in the attacks were men, Zakirov said, and one had identification indicating he was an Uzbek citizen.

Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov said the bombers were prevented from entering the buildings. ''Terrorists wanted to blow themselves up inside the buildings, but they weren't allowed" inside, Almatov told Russia's Interfax news agency.

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 wall surrounding the compound appeared to be scarred with burn marks, and the area was blocked off by heavily armed police and soldiers.

The attack at the prosecutor's office caused the most damage, blowing out windows at the entrance, leaving roof panels and lights dangling, and scattering debris into the street.

Adam Ereli, a US State Department spokesman, said, ''The United States deplores this act of terrorist violence."

Israel was sending a team to Uzbekistan to investigate the bombing, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Security was being reinforced at all the embassies in Tashkent, officials said.

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