Gunmen Storm Prison in Andijon

by Nathan Hamm on 5/12/2005 · 19 comments

I was just about to head off to bed when I got a tip from an NGO worker in Uzbekistan that about 100 gunmen have seized a prison in Andijon, killing guards and freeing prisoners. The BBC is also reporting that the gunmen attacked a military garrison, driving off soldiers.

The CBC reports that the local administrative buildings may have been seized, that no one knows who is in charge, and that a theater has been burned down. They put the number of prisoners released at 2,000.

There’s very little information beyond that at the moment, but I will have it as I am able to post it. I am trying to get updates from people in the country and I should mention that Dee Warren lives in Andijon, though given the situation, she may be unlikely to post anything. Keep an eye on Larry Tweed too, who is just over the border in Kyrgyzstan.

Though the protests in Andijon have been peaceful for the last few days and it is impossible to definitely say that a group of the protesters were involved in these attacks, it’s not unreasonable to think there might be a connection. There was something that made me uneasy about the separation of men and women at the protests and that so many people would show up for what seemed to have been a run-of-the-mill case.

Update: I should point out this recent BBC story in which protesters were talking about the importance of peaceful protests. The gunmen could have been from the protesters or they could be militants taking advantage of the situation (some of those violent schismatics from the ranks of Hizb ut-Tahrir perhaps?). It’s too soon to be sure of anything.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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jonathan p May 12, 2005 at 11:56 pm

Just got off the phone with friends in Tashkent and Navoi and, of course, they knew nothing of what’s going on. Gotta go to bed. We’ll see what’s happening in the morning.

jonathan p May 13, 2005 at 12:17 am

The Associated Press is reporting that dear Mr. Islam Karimov has flown to Andijon himself.

Lyndon May 13, 2005 at 1:48 am

There has been lots of coverage on the Echo of Moscow radio station about this. When I left the apartment to go to work, they were asking listeners who might know about the situation to call in. If you read or understand Russian, you can check out their website – – and (I think) listen online.

They were reporting that the situation there was chaotic, with 15 cars full of gunmen pulling up and executing a jailbreak (their figures on the escapees were inexact – 4,000 inmates in the prison total, and they were able to escape for a period of 20 minutes), then soldiers appeared on the scene and chaos ensued – soldiers were firing on passing cars, etc. Echo also reported that the prison housed “common criminals” as well as members of Islamic opposition organizations.

Echo also reported that Karimov is there or is on the way.

Don’t go to sleep, Nathan, you should be covering this – it looks to me like it’s going to be a big story.

Laura Brown May 13, 2005 at 2:06 am

I don’t know how seriously to take this, but CNN are implying that the situation in Andijan may be connected to an attempted suicide bombing at the Israeli embassy in Tashkent.

Be careful, guys.

Bertrand May 13, 2005 at 2:28 am

The situation in Andijon is currently unstable. On the ground reports are that the local government building (hokimiyat) is being occupied, althought the government denies this.

The U.S. Consular office is warning American citizens in Tashkent to be alert as an attempted suicide bomber was shot and killed outside the Israeli Embassy this morning.

There are several thousand people in the streets in Andijon and authorities are not allowing anyone to enter or leave the city.

Tim Newman May 13, 2005 at 2:40 am

This is all down to my planned trip, I know it. Whenever I start planning a trip somewhere, the government gets overthrown or some enormous disaster hits the place.

Matt W. May 13, 2005 at 3:15 am

Some patchy information:

For what it’s worth, friends from Andijon wrote confirming that they saw several dead bodies in the prison area. The prison in Andijon is located on a traffic circle in the center of the City and is the only one– so yes, all sorts of criminals would be there. There have been peaceful protests against detentions in the past in Andijon.

Also heard from same source that the theater (which is next to the Provincial Hokimiyat and, therefore, not far from the City Hokimiyat) was on fire.

Lyndon May 13, 2005 at 5:21 am

Here’s my translation into English of the latest on the situation from (

If this report is to be believed, the government stormed the rebel position(s) and killed most of the people behind the protests. There seems to be a media blackout in Uzbekistan, and it’s probably difficult for reporters to operate in the area at the moment. BBC and CNN have not yet reported on any government storm at this point.

david_walther May 13, 2005 at 5:21 am

several news reports, both Russian and western, claim that the police have opened fire on the crowds in Andijon. it’s unclear whether they are shooting armed or unarmed people, it sounds like both. Russian reports make the whole thing sound awfully bloody.

Here in Tashkent, it’s oddly quiet. I expected there to be police checkpoints and things like there have been in the past, but on the other hand there are fewer police in the city and on the streets than usual. I live on Pushkin, one of the presidential roads that is usually patrolled in the morning by dozens of officers and, and this morning there wasn’t a single one. It’s kind of creepy, actually. I realize the president didn’t go to work this morning (at least here in Tashkent) so maybe that’s the reason, but the city in general does not so far resemble anything like the state of alert that they put up last year when bombings happened.

Uzbek news is already reporting events in Andijon, which surprised me. I’m not sure what they are saying yet… I’ll try to check in regularly here.

All the rest of you reading here in country, please also post if you have news. It’s very frustrating living here and having very little access to quality information. My cable tv is shut off so I can’t see any Russian news now, I’m not sure if the whole city is shut off or just my building.

Lyndon May 13, 2005 at 6:05 am

David, it looks like there is a news blackout even of Russian channels – this story from RIA Novosti only mentions NTV, but the other report I translated mentioned news bulletins on other Russian channels being blocked as well. Here’s the RIA article in English: “FOREIGN BROADCASTING SUDDENLY INTERRUPTED IN UZBEKISTAN” –

Hang in there.

Asalka May 13, 2005 at 6:21 am

BBC and CNN are currently being blocked from the Kamalak-TV cable service in my Tashkent apartment (they’re showing things like “Dallas” in Uzbek instead). I’m still getting Russian stations but haven’t seen any news on them. Wouldn’t doubt it if the Russian stations switch over to fluff once it’s time for the evening news. Contrary to what David says above, I feel that there are tons of militsiya on the street. I saw about one every 10-15 feet all along Nukusskaya Street and up to Parkentskiy Bazaar.

Nair May 13, 2005 at 6:28 am

And what about the murder near Israeli Embassy? It seems it was a police mistake, I have read in mosnews that. I think that the incident may be not connected with the incidents in Andijan, Laura

Lyndon May 13, 2005 at 6:31 am

OK, sorry to flood the comments section, but here’s the most recent item (40 minutes old at this point) I’ve translated from RIA Novosti:

This might be useful for those of you who are there and have internet access but can’t read the Russian. RIAN’s English-language page is here – – but they don’t have too many current stories in English on the Andijan situation.

They do, however, have a page with all of their articles (in Russian) about the situation:

Lyndon May 13, 2005 at 6:34 am

The person shot near the Israeli embassy was a mentally ill, unemployed Russian, according to –

And I was wrong about RIA Novosti, they actually have lots of stuff about the Andijan situation in English (including forecasts of what Karimov will do from Russian analysts) if you scroll down a bit on their English-language page (I mentioned it before, but it’s here – – just in case).

Nathan May 13, 2005 at 6:56 am

Lyndon, please keep the comments coming! Thank you all of you for your updates!

Lyndon May 13, 2005 at 7:03 am

Nathan, glad to see you are up and on the story. Here’s what will probably be my last bit on this for now – – a selection of comments (translated by RIA Novosti) from Russian experts on Central Asia. Some of their comments are pretty interesting.

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