Bloody end to Uzbek hijack raid

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The Independent Online
POLICE IN Uzbekistan stormed a hijacked bus yesterday in an operation that killed two hostages, four police officers and three armed hijackers, officials said.

There were at least 24 passengers aboard the bus, which was travelling from the city of Khoresm in the south of the country to the capital, Tashkent, when five unidentified gunmen seized it on Tuesday night. The gunmen then contacted the authorities and demanded the release of fellow militants, who had been charged over a spate of car bombings outside government buildings in Tashkent last month that killed 15 people.

Special security troops stopped the bus near the town of Sarimoi-Chu yesterday and tried to seize the hijackers. Two passengers were killed, as were three security troops, one traffic policeman and three of the gunmen, a statement by the prosecutor-general said. Onegunmen was arrested but thestatement did not give the whereabouts of the fifth.

The Uzbek President, Islam Karimov, blamed last month's bombings on Islamic extremists. Police have arrested a dozen suspects in Uzbekistan and two other former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Mr Karimov is, like most Uzbeks , a Muslim. However, his insistence on keeping the country secular has put him at odds with fundamentalist Islamic groups.

The bus hijacking came hours after a police clash on Tuesday with a group of gunmen suspected of involvement in the bombings.

A resident of an apartment building in Tashkent told police about a group of men living in the block who resembled police sketches of the suspected bombers. When police visited the flat in question, its occupants opened fire, badly wounding an officer. Three gunmen were killed in the ensuing gun battle, and another three, police said, blew themselves up using their own explosives. (AP)