Kazaks Accuse 16 in Tashkent Bomb Trial

Group stands trial for assisting suicide attacks, but both accusations and evidence remain shrouded in secrecy.

Kazaks Accuse 16 in Tashkent Bomb Trial

Group stands trial for assisting suicide attacks, but both accusations and evidence remain shrouded in secrecy.

Sunday, 20 November, 2005

Sixteen people are on trial in Kazakstan accused of helping organise three suicide bombings in the Uzbek capital Tashkent last summer. So far, though, the high-profile case has shed little light on the attacks which left seven dead, or on the Islamic group said to be behind them.

Prosecution officials explained that the trial in Taraz, the main town of Jambyl region in southeast Kazakstan, had to be closed both to reporters and the public because of the nature of the accusations – a serious crime committed in another state.

The 16 defendants, all Kazakstan nationals, are accused of complicity in three suicide attacks at the United States and Israeli embassies and the Uzbek prosecution service’s offices in Tashkent on July 30 last year. Seven people including the three attackers were killed. The central charge facing the accused is terrorism under Kazakstan’s criminal code.

The accused – who include one young woman – are all ethnic Kazaks or Uzbeks and are said to belong to a little-known organisation called “Jamaat [Society] of Mujaheds of Central Asia”. The group’s supposed leader, Jakshibek Bimurzaev, is among those standing trial.

Beyond the main charges, little is known of the evidence that prosecutors, together with the National Security Committee, KNB, which led the investigation, have gathered against the group. When IWPR contributors wrote to the KNB chief for South Kazakstan region, they received the reply “no comment until the end of the trial” from its press secretary Nurlan Taskinbaev.

Nor is much known about the group the accused are said to belong to. Last November, KNB deputy chairman Vladimir Bozhko told a press conference that the security agency had broken up a group called the Mujahedin of Central Asia, which he described as a link in al-Qaeda’s international network that was active in Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

At the time of the July suicide bombings, many observers and certainly the Uzbek authorities believed they were more or less the same group which was responsible for a wave of violence at the end of March and beginning of April, which left people dead – numbers – in running battles, suicide bombings and other incidents.

One detail that has come out is that the NSS believes the Jamaat used mobile phones to maintain their network, specifically the Activ pay-as-you-go system where customers buy phone cards and there is no record of calls. On May 4, Bozhko told journalists that the KNB was pressing for all Activ phone numbers to be properly registered.

“They had three to five telephones to keep in touch with their centre abroad, and regularly changed their numbers,” says Bozhko. “All criminals here use Activ. That way it’s easier for them to hide from the law.”

Friends and relatives interviewed by IWPR find it hard to believe any of the defendants would have contemplated committing or aiding violence.

Makhsat Mammatkulov, at home in Mankent in the South Kazakstan region, is reluctant to talk about his son Elmurod, who is among those on trial.

Wiping clay from his fingers as he completed a plastering job in his barn, he told IWPR, “He’s a normal guy: since he was a child, he read the Koran, prayed at the mosque, and worked on the land. We are hereditary farmers.”

Neighbours and family said that as a devout Muslim, Elmurod Mammatkulov, 30, did not take drugs, nor did he drink or even smoke.

“I can’t believe that he could join up with people who kill. He was a very peaceful person,” said one neighbour.

His local preacher or imam at the Jalal Baba mosque, Khaidarkul kajy Nishambaev, said he did not believe Mammatkulov is a terrorist, just a ahrdwiorking believer

Two more defendents came from the neighbouring village of Aksukent: 35-year-old Abdunabi Kadyrakhunov and his 32-year-old brother Azamat .

Although many neighbours were scared to say anything since the arrest of the brothers, a young man who lives next door said of Abdunabi, “He’s a fine man, I can’t say anything bad about him.”

Abdunabi’s wife Kamila said that when he was arrested, a police search of the house netted an apparently incriminating video tape and a quantity of narcotics. She indicated that she thought these might have been planted by arresting officers.

“My husband never took drugs, he's a religious person and observed all the laws of Islam, he did not drink or smoke,” said Kamila.

Abdurahman Kadyrakhunov, the elder brother of Abdunabi and Azamat, said drugs were also found at the latter's home. He said neither brother could have had been in possession of narcotics.

Illegal drugs were also found when arresting officers searched Elmurod Mammatkulov's home, as was the case with all the other accused.

“Drugs were found at all the addresses where the arrested men lived,” said Abdurahman Kadyrakhunov. “Yet none of them took drugs.”

For some, that raises worries about the strength of the case. While narcotics are commonly available in Central Asia, Islamic fundamentalists tend to steer clear of them as intoxicants prohibited by their faith.

Although not much is known about the case, it is likely to have important regional implications, especially in the wake of the May 13 violence in the Uzbek city of Andijan.

If the Kazaks have indeed decapitated a real Islamic group , and one responsible for acts of violence in the Uzbek capital, they will have gone a long way to satisfying President Islam Karimov, who has more than once indicated that his Kazak neighbours were not doing nearly enough to stop extremists, who he suggested were taking advantage of the more liberal climate in Kazakstan to plan and orchestrate attacks.

The Kazak authorities have recently taken a number of steps to show they are serious about counter-terrorism, including banning the Hizb-ut-Tahrir group.

A more cynical view, voiced by Maksut Sarsenov, a leading regional expert with the Association of Political Scientists and Sociologists of Kazakstan, is that the Kazak authorities may have cooked up the Jamaat case to placate their irate neighbours.

“I think that the trial is propaganda designed to show our dedication to the war on terror, and thus please the Uzbek authorities.”

Daur Dosybiev and Olga Dosybieva are independent journalists in Shymkent. Saida Sanjarova, a correspondent for the Shymkent newspaper Rabat, also contributed to this report.

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