‘Grab and Run’: Kyrgyz Tradition to Kidnap Women for Marriage

Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, London – Kidnapping women for marriage is a common tradition in Kyrgyzstan. Known as “Ala-Kachuu” (grab and run), it also exists in other central Asian countries and the Caucasus.

“He was quite short. Apart from that I cannot remember much about him,” Gulzhan Turdubayeva, who lives in Kyrgyzstan, said of kidnapping attempt she was a victim of three years ago.

“I had never even met him before.”

She eventually fled her abductor and never saw him again, however many others are not that lucky.

According to the UN, more than 12,000 women and girls are abducted each year in Kyrgyzstan, often with the complicity of their family, reported AFP.

Some experts have linked the practice to the economy, and specifically rural families’ inability to pay high bridal prices, which are often reduced in cases where the bride is kidnapped.

Turdubayeva’s story and those of four other women have been turned into short animations as part of a project aimed at lifting the veil on bride kidnapping.

“People see the drama of bride kidnapping in a girl getting bundled into a car by several men, but often it doesn’t happen like that,” said Tatyana Zelenskaya, one of the artists behind the “One Day They Stole Me” series.

“The real drama (comes) later when the would-be in-laws were persuading her to stay,” Zelenskaya said.

“How did they impose their will on her in that moment and why did she accept the marriage? This is what I wanted to understand.”

One of Turdubayeva’s cartoons dubbed “Nargiza” tells of how her aunt colluded in her adbuctor’s preparations.

“My mother has kept in touch with my aunt, but I will never forgive her.”

Another character called “Begaim” tells the story of another girl who was raped by the man who was supposed to marry her.

In view of the taboos that come with the abduction tradition, Turdubayeva was the only one among the five women partaking in the project, who accepted to publicly reveal her identity.

While Turdubayeva has been widely applauded for taking such a step, she has also received hate mail and threats on social networks, where the clips have been widely shared.

The abusive messages came mostly from men.

“Some of them told me, ‘You’re a fool, you should have stayed with him. You are both Kyrgyz, which is the main thing’,” she told AFP.

The problem of bride kidnapping has deep roots in Kyrgyzstan. It existed even before the country becomes a Soviet republic in the 1920s, and persisted despite the Soviet authorities’ attempts to eradicate it.

At the age of 80, the sister of the country’s best known poet and writer, Chinguiz Aitmatov, remembers how her boyfriend kidnapped her and forced her to marry him in 1959. She has been his wife for almost 50 years.

These abductions boomed in the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Zulfiya Kochorbayeva, an expert at an NGO, recalled how at her school, one of her schoolmates was abducted from the graduation ball, and that around half of her schoolmates got married that way.

Kyrgyz authorities say that these marriages have remarkably declined thanks to a law endorsed in 2012 that punishes the kidnappers with up to 10 years in prison. However, according to a 2016 UN report, a third of the Kyrgyz community still ignores that this practice has been considered a crime.

It is necessary that the abductions be denounced, warned Koshorbayeva.

“It’s difficult for girls to report it, they fear their families will not support them,” she said.

In this male-dominated community, older people unfortunately decide the youth’s fate, she lamented.

Islamists of Central Asia: Latest Trend of Violent Extremism

Russia

Beirut – Russian authorities recently revealed that the suspected suicide bomber who attacked the metro in St. Petersburg was a Kyrgyz citizen born in Russia. This attack followed another that had targeted Reina nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. That attack was executed by a Uighur from China who came to Turkey from Kyrgyzstan.

These two attacks shed light on the complicated dynamic of recruiting extremists in Kyrgyzstan and other central Asian countries and Russia’s efforts to alleviate terrorist threats by facilitating the travel of local extremists to Syria.

Earlier this month, a Kyrgyz citizen, who was born in Russia, blew himself up in St. Petersburg’s metro station, killing 13 people. A few days later, Russian police dismantled a bomb found in an apartment in the same city.

The St. Petersburg attack was a reminder that terror threats are still a cause for concern for the Russian leadership and community, Russia expert Max Sokov told Asharq Al-Awsat. This was the first time terrorism hit the northern capital of Russia even though two dangerous attacks were thwarted in November of last year and February earlier this year.

According to a report published by The Diplomat Magazine, over 350 Kyrgyz citizens, including around 80 women, went to Syria. Another report prepared by Radio Liberty Europe said the vast majority of Kyrgyz citizens, who left to fight with ISIS in Syria, are from the southern parts of the country.

Over 2,000-4,000 people from Central Asia, including Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Tajiks, Turkmen and Uighurs, have joined ISIS’s ranks. According to Sokov, the longest land border in the world is that separating Russia and Kazakhstan. Infiltrations across that border have increased, which has allowed different groups coming from “deep inside” Central Asia, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, to move with relative freedom.

ISIS members hailing from central Asian countries have remarkably increased, especially in the past two years. Yet, it seems that ISIS does not consider Central Asia an important center for recruitment, like Europe and Tunisia.

For Central Asia’s residents, joining radical groups can be triggered by many factors, such as the failure of public institutions, level of education, poverty and wealth, the growing use of social media and the lack of opportunities for youth.

The Diplomat divided ISIS’s militants into different categories. The first includes citizens opposing their countries’ regime and politicians. They are not necessarily poor, but they dream of political and social changes in their countries. Driven by depression and disappointment, they decided to fight in Syria to feel that they are part of an important cause and to feel that they are heroes in an ideal battle for change. Some of them believe that they are fighting for freedom against an oppressive regime, while others think that the secular political regime has failed in providing them with a dignified life and that only an Islamic state can improve their future.

The second category is composed of people who have been oppressed or are escaping oppression. “Authorities in countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are oppressive and do not allow the existence of an opposition. Some of this category’s members, particularly those who ran away from oppression, consider regions controlled by ISIS as a safe haven,” continued The Diplomat.

The third category includes those who are looking for a better life. They are often lured by false promises that include money and new job opportunities. ISIS has promised many of them high salaries that may reach $5,000 and $10,000, which are a fortune in this region. But, eventually, they discover that these promises are false.

Sokov said evidence in the St. Petersburg attack points to the involvement of al-Nusra Front and members from Central Asia. It turned out that the suspect came from the Osh region in Kyrgyzstan where people from the Uzbek ethnicity live. Sokov noted that Central Asian and Caucasus citizens who have joined terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq are a concern to Moscow and the Central Asian authorities.

The Diplomat mentioned that terrorist groups tend to recruit central Asian members living in Russia. Those migrants often work in low-paying jobs or suffer from unemployment, which isolates them.

Amid these circumstances, some fall under the influence of Chechens, who recruit extremists at mosques, and end up traveling to Syria through Moscow, Grozny or Turkey.

The fourth category of ISIS militants is composed of people who come from religious backgrounds or are very interested in Islam, said The Diplomat. Religious knowledge in Central Asian countries is generally low, which makes members practicing Islam an easy target for recruiters, who convince them that ISIS will unify all Muslims and save them.

The last category includes girls and young women, who believe false promises of love and marriage. They are often lured through social media.

According to an article published by Reuters in 2016, Russian authorities worked on easing the threat of extremists by providing direct or indirect help for would-be militants wanting to head to Syria. Moscow sought to eliminate the threat of local terrorist attacks and therefore, intelligence and police officials overlooked or even facilitated the departure of militants to Syria. According to Reuters, this plan persisted up until at least the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and it was even heightened out of fear that the extremists would carry out attacks at the sports event.

Russian Authorities Face New Challenges in Wake of St. Petersburg Blast

Russia

Moscow – The bombing at the metro in Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, has put the authorities before new challenges most notably after it was revealed that the suspected perpetrator was a Kyrgyzstan native.

Russian security authorities have still not uncovered how the suspect, Akbarzhon Jalilov, was able to carry bags laden with explosives all the way to the metro without being detected. It is certain that the security agencies will be revising their measures at transportation hubs.

Furthermore, the fact that the suspected suicide bomber came from central Asia will likely complicate Russia’s economic ties with these central states because the perpetrator had allegedly moved to Russia for economic reasons. The Russian authorities are now facing the challenges of curbing future attacks from natives of those countries in a manner that will not negatively impact central Asian foreign laborers working in Russia even though authorities always assert after any terror attack that terrorism has no nationality or religion.

This will require sensitive measures and close cooperation between the security institutions of the former Soviet Union states.

On April 3, residents of St. Petersburg started their day as they normally would, but at 14:40 a bomb went off in a high-speed metro cart, killing 14 people and wounding around 50.

The next day, Russia’s Investigative Committee, announced that it had identified Jalilov as the suspect. He was born in the region of Osh in Kyrgyzstan in 1995. Kyrgyz intelligence sources later confirmed his identity, revealing that he and his family had moved to St. Petersburg and had later obtained Russian nationality.

The investigations that followed then focused on whether he had acted alone or if he was linked to any extremist groups. The sources speculated that Jalilov may have been influenced by the “Tawheed and Jihad” extremist group that is involved in the fighting in Syria.

They revealed that hundreds of Uzbeks, who are natives of central Asian countries, have joined the ranks of this organization. Many of these extremists also hail from Osh, Jalilov’s hometown.

The truth is that some sides are trying to link the St. Petersburg bombing to the war in Syria and Russia’s involvement in it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quick to dismiss these claims.

The ISIS militant group had however urged targeting Russia over its military intervention in Syria and since then, several attacks had taken place against it, but they were mainly focused in the Caucasus states. Russian security forces announce on an almost daily basis operations taking place there.

Observers noted that Russia could have fallen victim to major terrorist attacks had it not been for the security forces’ early crackdown on extremists and suspected terrorists. One of the most important operations took place in Dagestan on March 5 when authorities arrested a four-member ISIS-linked sleeper cell that was planning on staging attacks against members of the security agencies.

According to the Russian national counter-terrorism body, authorities in 2016 managed to eliminate 140 terrorist fighters and 24 armed gangs and to arrest 900 terrorists and gang members that are affiliated with them. They also succeeded in confiscating large amounts of weapons, destroying 50 arms manufacturing factories and defusing 190 hand-made explosives.

In March as well, security forces arrested a Tajik national affiliated with ISIS, who was planning on carrying out a suicide attack during Women’s Day celebrations in Moscow. He confessed during investigations that he had fought alongside the terror group in Syria. He has since been deported to Tajikistan.

In December 2016, security forces announced the arrest of four suspects from Tajikistan and Moldova for planning to carry out a major attack in Moscow. They confessed to receiving directives from an ISIS operative in Turkey’s Istanbul city. The confession was then followed by a wave of arrests against central Asian natives in Russia.

Despite these arrests, the Russian people have so far showed tolerance towards the thousands of central Asian youths working in Russian cities. Similar detentions and security incidents in the future may however alter this tolerant view, which may consequently put the Russian authorities in a difficult position of averting a crisis between Russians and central Asian nationals.

St Petersburg Attack: Russian Investigators Confirm Jalilov as Man behind Metro Blast

Handout photo of suspect Suspect Akbarzhon at St Petersburg's metro station

Russia’s state investigative committee said on Tuesday a native of Kyrgyzstan who had Russian citizenship was believed to be responsible for the deadly blast in St. Petersburg, as the toll from the attack rose to 14 dead and more than 50 injured.

The committee said in a statement its investigation had identified Akbarzhon Jalilov, whose genetic traces were also found on a bag containing an explosive device.

“From the genetic evidence and the surveillance cameras there is reason to believe that the person behind the terrorist act in the train carriage, was the same one who left a bag with an explosive device at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station,” the statement added.

The Kyrgyz government identified the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, born in 1995 and a native of Osh, citing “preliminary data” and saying that officials were cooperating with the Russian security services.

“It has been established that the explosive device may have been brought into action by a man whose fragmented remains were found in the third car of the train,” Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, Russia’s federal criminal investigations body, said in a statement broadcast on state-run television. “He has been identified, but information about him is not being disclosed yet for the benefit of the investigation.”

The blast on Monday killed at least 14 people, the Russian health minister, Veronika Skvortsova, told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday. 51 others were hospitalized after the blast, according to an updated list of casualties released by the Ministry for Emergency Situations.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, while not confirming any details of the investigation, said it was wrong to portray the attack as a result of Russia’s intervention in Syria.

“As far as the discussions by several media outlets that the terrorist act is a revenge for our Syria policy, this is cynical and despicable,” he said during a news conference with his Kyrgyz counterpart, broadcast live on state television.

Furthermore, the Kremlin spokesman says intelligence agencies will look into the fact that Monday’s subway blast in St. Petersburg happened while President Vladimir Putin was in town.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that the fact that Putin was in the city when the bomb went off, although several dozen miles away from where he was hosting talks, “makes one pause” and is “something for the intelligence agencies to analyze.”

The explosion on a subway train under Russia’s second-largest city killed at least 14 people on Monday and wounded dozens.

INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION

Following the terrorist attack that hit St. Petersburg on Monday, many countries worldwide condemned the attack that was described as “terrible.”

“Terrible. Terrible thing happening all over the world. Absolutely, a terrible thing,” US President Donald Trump said when asked by journalists to comment on the St. Petersburg blast.

A source in the Saudi Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the bombing. The source offered condolences to the families of the victims, the Russian government and the Russian people, and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

For his part, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım expressed condolences in a phone call to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev over the deadly blast, Turkish NTV television reported.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin expressed his condolences to the victims of the attack on Twitter.

Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah sent a cable of condolences to President Putin over the victims of the terrorist explosion.

He expressed strongest condemnation of the State of Kuwait as well as full solidarity with the Russian people against this terrorist act.

Jordan, for its part, also condemned the attack.
Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani called on the international community to follow a holistic approach in combatting “blind terrorism” that hits everywhere in the world and threatens the future of humanity.

Momani, who is also the government spokesperson, stressed Jordan’s solidarity with the Russian government and people, expressing condolences over the loss of life in the incident and wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel extended condolences to Russia on Monday. She sent a telegram to Russian President Vladimir Putin and denounced the blast as a “barbaric act.”

UAE also condemned the terrorist blast that targeted the metro line in the Russian metropolis and stressed its support to Russia to eradicate terrorism.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan sent condolence cables to Putin on the victims of the terrorist blast.

He offered his heartfelt condolences to the Russian president, wishing quick recovery to the injured.

He also stressed the UAE’s unwavering stance towards renouncing violence and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

He further called for strengthening international cooperation and concerted efforts to eradicate this serious scourge.

Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces also dispatched similar condolences to the Russian President.

St. Petersburg Bomber Identified as Kyrgyz-Born Russian Citizen

Petersburg

The suspect in a deadly blast in the Russian city of St. Petersburg is a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen, announced the intelligence agency in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the GKNB security service identified the suspect as Akbarzhon Jalilov, born in the city of Osh in 1995.

The intelligence agency said it is cooperating with Russian authorities to help the investigation.

It provided no other details.

In the past two decades, Russian trains and planes have been frequent targets of attack, usually blamed on extremist militants.

Neither authorities in Russia nor in Kyrgyzstan have specified whether Monday’s attack was a suicide bombing or whether the bomber got away. The Interfax news agency said authorities believe the suspect, a 23-year old who came from ex-Soviet Central Asia and was linked to radical groups, carried the explosive device onto the train in a rucksack.

Within two hours of the blast, authorities had found and deactivated another bomb at another busy station, the anti-terror agency said. That station is a major transfer point for passengers on two lines and serves the railway station to Moscow.

Eleven people were killed and 40 wounded in the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came while President Vladimir Putin was visiting the city, his hometown.

The entire St. Petersburg subway system was shut down and evacuated, but partial service resumed after about six hours.

Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim Central Asian nation of six million, is Russia’s close political ally and hosts a Russian military airbase.

Saudi Leadership Condoles President of Kyrgyzstan on Turkish Plane Victims

Saudi

Riyadh – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz has sent a cable of condolences to President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev on the crash of a Turkish plane near Bishkek airport.

In his cable, King Salman said: “We have been informed of the crash of a Turkish cargo plane in the vicinity of Bishkek airport, resulting in victims. In our own name and on behalf of the people and government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we express to Your Excellency, the families of the victims and the people of Kyrgyzstan our warmest condolence and sincerest sympathy, appealing to Allah Almighty to bestow his mercy upon the souls of the deceased, pour patience on the hearts of their families and friends, and preserve Your Excellency and the people of Kyrgyzstan from any harms.”

In addition, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, sent a cable of condolence to the President of Kyrgyzstan.

“I have been informed with profound pain of the crash of a Turkish cargo plane in the vicinity of Bishkek airport, resulting in victims. Offering to Your Excellency, the families of the victims and the people of Kyrgyzstan my warmest condolence and sincerest sympathy, I appeal to Allah Almighty to bestow his mercy upon the souls of the deceased, pour patience on the hearts of their families and friends, and preserve Your Excellency and the people of Kyrgyzstan from any harms,” said the Crown Prince.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, also sent a cable of condolence and sympathy to President Atambayev.

In his cable, the Deputy Crown Prince said: “I have been informed with profound pain of the crash of a Turkish cargo plane on a number of homes in the vicinity of Bishkek airport and the death of a number of residents. Offering to Your Excellency, the families of the victims and the people of Kyrgyzstan my warmest condolence and sincerest sympathy, I appeal to Allah Almighty to bestow his mercy upon the souls of the deceased, pour patience on the hearts of their families and friends, and preserve Your Excellency and the people of Kyrgyzstan from any harms.”

Kyrgyzstan Says 37 Dead in Turkish Cargo Plane Crash

A Turkish cargo plane crashed near Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airport on Monday, killing at least 37 people, most of them residents of a village struck by the Boeing 747 as it tried to land in thick fog, authorities said.

According to the airport administration, the plane was supposed to make a stopover at Manas, near the capital city Bishkek, on its way from Hong Kong to Istanbul. It crashed when trying to land in poor visibility at 7:31 a.m.

The doomed plane ploughed for a few hundred meters through the village, shattering into pieces and damaging some 15 buildings.

Initial estimates put the death toll from the crash at 37, said Kyrgyzstan’s emergencies ministry.

The majority of the dead were from the village of Dacha-Suu where the plane hit, a spokesman for the country’s emergency services, Muhammed Svarov, told AFP.

The total number of dead “could be bigger” Svarov said, adding that authorities had launched a huge search and rescue operation.

Kyrgyz officials initially identified the Boeing 747-400 as belonging to Turkish Airlines, but Turkish cargo operator ACT Airlines said the jet was theirs.

“Our TC-MCL signed plane, flying on Jan. 16 from Hong Kong to Bishkek, crashed on landing at Bishkek at the end of the runway for an unknown reason,” ACT Airlines said in an emailed statement.

“More information will be disclosed concerning our four-person team when we get clear information.”

Zumriyat Rezakhanova, a resident of Dacha-Suu said the plane fell “right on the homes” where residents were sleeping.

“My sister’s home is badly damaged. Luckily she and her family survived,” Rezakhanova told AFP.

The country’s Manas airport has been closed and flights cancelled until evening at the earliest, airport authorities said.

Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov was heading a specially-appointed government commission to investigate the circumstances of the crash.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev cancelled his visit to China to return to Bishkek, according to Kyrgyz media.

Gunman in Istanbul Attack may Have Trained in Syria as more Suspects Detained

Kyrgyzstan’s security service said on Tuesday it was checking reports a Kyrgyz national was involved in the attack on the Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day as a report said the gunman appears to have been well versed in guerrilla warfare and may have trained in Syria.

Kyrgyzstan’s security service said that it was in touch with Turkish authorities.

The attacker, who remains at large, shot dead a police officer and a civilian at the entrance to the exclusive Reina nightclub on Sunday. He then opened fire with an automatic rifle inside, reloading his weapon half a dozen times and shooting the wounded as they lay on the ground.

He killed 39 people at the nightclub.

The Haberturk newspaper said police investigations had revealed that the gunman had entered Turkey from Syria and went to the central city of Konya in November, travelling with his wife and two children so as not to attract attention.

Turkish officials have not commented on the details of the probe. But government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the authorities were close to fully identifying the gunman, after gathering fingerprints and information on his appearance, and had detained eight other people.

But Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu said six more people have been detained in connection with the attack, raising the number of suspects held to 14.

Anadolu said all 14 were being questioned at Istanbul’s main police headquarters. It did not provide details on the suspects or say where they were taken into custody.

The agency said police were receiving numerous reports of sightings or tips from citizens, following the release of photos and videos of the alleged gunman.

A selfie video of the alleged attacker, apparently walking around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, was run by Turkish news channels on Tuesday as police operations to try to track him down continued.

In a statement claiming the attack on Monday, ISIS described the club as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday” and said the shooting was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

Kurtulmus made no reference to the claim of responsibility but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS and since August has been conducting military operations inside Syria to drive the jihadists, as well as Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.

Kyrgyz President Cancels U.N. Trip Due to Chest Pains

Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev announced cancelling a trip to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Monday for medical reasons.

The Atambayev’s cancellation came after suffering chest pains during the first leg of his flight, his office reported.

“According to doctors’ preliminary conclusion, the head of state has displayed symptoms of heart problems,” it said in a statement, adding that he was in Turkey. Atambayev turned 60 last week.

“Because of this, President Atambayev will undergo a medical examination and will be under the supervision of doctors for some time,” it said.

Atambayev, who has run the formerly Soviet Central Asian republic since 2011, had previously displayed no obvious signs of poor health.

The majority Muslim nation of six million has been on the brink of collapse for over a decade. Violent protests in 2005 and 2010 toppled two successive presidents.

Atambayev pledged to step down when his term ends in December 2017 and not seek re-election.

Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a Russian air base, has cultivated close relations with Moscow under Atambayev, whose Social Democratic party is also the leading partner in the ruling parliamentary coalition.

Under the Kyrgyz constitution, a president who is unfit to perform his duties may be relieved of the post by parliament, whose speaker becomes acting president.

Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan, the region’s most populous nation of 32 million, is in the middle of a transition of power after Islam Karimov, its ruler for 27 years, died this month at the age of 78.

Terrorist Attack Targets China’s Kyrgyzstan Embassy

Bishkek-A van driven by a suicide bomber exploded after ramming through a gate at the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday, injuring three people, Kyrgyz authorities said.

“As a result of the explosion, only the suicide bomber terrorist died. Security guards were injured,” Kyrgyzstan’s deputy prime minister Jenish Razakov told journalists at the scene.

Razakov said the three wounded were all Kyrgyz employees of the embassy and that they have been hospitalized.

Law enforcement sources told Agence France Presse that a Mitsubishi Delica van smashed through a gate at the embassy on Tuesday morning before exploding in the center of the compound close to the ambassador’s residence.

A police source confirmed to Agence France Presse that the vehicle was driven by a suicide bomber and described the incident as a “terrorist attack.”

China’s foreign ministry condemned the attack as an “extreme and violent act” but refused to classify it as terrorism.

“We asked the Kyrgyz side to get to the bottom of this incident and hold whoever is behind this accountable,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told journalists.

The country’s national security committee said that a criminal case for “terrorism” had been launched in response to the incident.

Kyrgyz police sources put the strength of the blast at an equivalent of up to 10 kilos of TNT, and one said body parts thought to be those of the attacker were found several hundred meters from the blast site.

Local residents told AFP that the blast had blown in their windows and caused their houses to shake.

Impoverished majority-Muslim Kyrgyzstan — which borders western China — has a history of political instability and battling extremism.

The authorities regularly announce that they have foiled attacks planned by ISIS in the country.