Story of Suspected Uzbek Suicide Bomber

APDilnoza Khalmuradova posing in an undated family photo in Tashkent. Her parents said she began embracing Islam two years ago.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Smiling and waving a V-sign in family photos, Dilnoza Khalmuradova appears the very image of prosperity propagated in posters across the Uzbek capital: an energetic child rushing between activities, learning English and studying to be a police officer.

That was before her transformation.

Beginning a couple of years ago, she became a zealous Muslim, her parents said. She studied Arabic so she could read the Koran and always wore a veil. The transformation was complete on March 29 when, police say, she blew herself up at a Tashkent bazaar in Uzbekistan's first-ever suicide attack.

Authorities say Khalmuradova, 19, killed two police officers and a 4-year-old child in the explosion, part of a chain of other suicide attacks, assaults on police and explosions that killed at least 47 people, mostly alleged militants.

Her older sister, Shakhnoza, is now on the run, described in wanted posters as a would-be "kamikaze."

The girls' parents, who are not religious, said they were so alarmed by their daughters' direction that last year they grounded them. "I didn't like it, I had the maternal feeling that it had to stop, that something wrong was going on," said their mother, Zahro.

But the daughters maintained phone contact with Islamic teachers, the parents say. They say they last saw their daughters alive Jan. 16. They disappeared the next day along with a girlfriend, Zakhro Turayeva. The parents say Turayeva died in a gun battle with police, but she still is depicted on wanted posters with their vanished daughter.

The next time Dilnoza's father, Bakhromjon, saw her was April 8 in a police morgue, her abdomen injured but her body otherwise intact -- prompting the family to doubt whether she blew herself up as police allege. Oleg Bichenov, the Tashkent police's deputy anti-terrorism chief, said the Khalmuradovs are grieving and are in denial.

Dilnoza's mother said she was a bright child who dived into her school activities; she studied foreign languages, computers and accounting; she earned a driver's license that allowed her to drive trucks. She apparently plunged into learning about Islam with the same intensity after she was first exposed seriously to the religion in 2002.

She dropped out of the police academy she had been attending for four months, her mother said. She began to wear a headscarf and prayed five times a day, although her parents said she never spoke out against the government.

Dilnoza's parents allege she was indoctrinated by other religious women, including Mastura Latipova, 42, who has been jailed since March 29 in connection with the attacks.

Across Tashkent, at Latipova's house, her nearly blind husband, Murat, started crying when talking about his wife. Latipova was apt to forget what she was told after five minutes and was not an Islamic teacher but rather someone who "just knew a few prayers," he said.

He said police threatened to strip Mastura naked if she did not sign a confession, and he was struck on the hands with a metal rod while in custody for two days. "How is it possible? I am an invalid. I can't see. My wife is a scared woman because of her health," he said. "Teaching these girls? It's impossible."

Zahro Khalmuradova, the mother, said she repeatedly asked Murat to tell her what her daughters talked with him about by phone, but he refused. She claimed he was an extremist ringleader and said she has asked Uzbek authorities to arrest him again.

Some opposition parties and human rights groups have said the attacks may have been motivated by the regime's oppression and the lack of economic opportunity in Uzbekistan. But Zahro said her girls had everything. "They used the girls," she said. "These terrorists programmed them, hypnotized them."