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Uzbekistan on High Alert in Wake of Friday's Bomb Attacks - 2004-07-31

Security forces in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan were on high alert Saturday after suicide bombers detonated explosives near the U.S. and Israeli embassies as well as the general prosecutor's office. The death toll in the attacks rose to three after another policeman died overnight.

Authorities in Uzbekistan say an investigation is continuing into the simultaneous bombings near three key buildings in the capital city, Tashkent.

Police were stopping and inspecting cars while Uzbek troops reinforced guards at the U.S. and Israeli embassies, which were targeted in the attacks.

A policeman at the U.S. embassy died overnight from wounds suffered during one of the bombings.

Two security guards outside the Israeli embassy died on Friday when a bomber detonated explosives there.

A third bombing struck the general prosecutor's office, leading to suspicions of a link between the attacks and the start of a trial of 15 people charged with carrying out similar attacks in March.

At least 47 people died in those incidents, which the government of hard-line President Islam Karimov blamed on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

The IMU carried out occasional attacks in the country prior to 2001, seen at the time as a response to repression against Islamic activities in the country.

However the group was largely decimated during the war to oust the Taleban in neighboring Afghanistan after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, when Uzbekistan became a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

The U.S. military has been using an air base close to the border with Afghanistan for almost three years.

Late Friday the IMU did claim responsibility for the latest attacks on a website based in Dubai.

However another group known as the Hizb ut-Tahrir also claimed it was behind the bombings, even though the group has officially rejected the use of violence.

President Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron hand since Soviet times, and analysts say this has contributed to the rise of radical Islamic groups in the country.

Human rights groups have long accused the Uzbek authorities of committing serious abuses of prisoners in crackdowns targeting even moderate opposition groups, as well as journalists.

Earlier this month the U.S. froze foreign aid payments to the country due to a lack of progress in democratic reforms in the country.