The United States diplomatic mission in Uzbekistan has been targeted in a firebomb attack in an unusual incident that will kindle chatter of a possible new terrorist menace in the repressive Central Asian nation.
Attacks on diplomatic missions in the heavily policed country are rare, but not unprecedented.
The US Embassy was targeted by bomb attacks on diplomatic and security targets in Tashkent in 2004 that killed two security guards at the Israeli Embassy.
This most recent attack occurred early September 28. The US mission said in a statement that “an unidentified assailant tossed two improvised incendiary devices onto embassy grounds,” one of which exploded.
Nobody was injured in the blast, but the embassy was closed as a precaution. The mission has now returned to business as usual, the statement said.
The embassy offered no possible motivation for the attack, which would have required the assailant to approach a robustly patrolled building surrounded by high razor-wire walls and guarded by U.S. Marines and local police.
The embassy said it was cooperating with authorities to investigate the attack and that it had identified “no specific threat information against Americans and/or American interests.”
Terrorist attacks are extremely rare in Uzbekistan, where the presence of police and security service officers is ubiquitous and stifling. This blast came three weeks after an explosive device detonated at Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar in an incident that the authorities belatedly explained was a security exercise.
In August, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – a terrorist group formed in the 1990s with the aim of overthrowing President Islam Karimov and establishing a caliphate in Central Asia – swore allegiance to the Islamic State group. The IMU was driven out of Uzbekistan and based itself on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border as a Taliban ally.
Karimov’s staunchly anti-Islamist administration periodically expresses concern about the threat to Uzbekistan from the IMU and from the IS group, although analysts are divided about the real potential for unrest.
Human rights campaigners accuse Tashkent of talking up the risks to justify the persecution of non-extremist Muslims, thousands of whom languish behind bars for practicing their religion beyond the strict remit allowed by the state, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch last year.
Uzbekistan suffered its most serious terrorist attacks in 1999, when over a dozen people were killed in a series of car bomb blasts targeting government buildings in downtown Tashkent, and in 2004, when a spate of attacks in the capital and Bukhara introduced suicide bombings to Central Asia and claimed around 50 lives.