Three Groups Take Aim at Uzbekistan’s Secular Regime

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the IMU, whose suicide bombers struck the US and Israeli embassies and the Uzbek prosecutor-general’s office in Tashkent Friday, July 30, – killing three Uzbek guards and injuring 9 – is a multifaceted fundamentalist terror group affiliated to al Qaeda and sharing its philosophy. Friday, its bombers failed to break into the embassies, but many counter-terror authorities see this attack as the opening shot in their next major confrontation. President Islam Karimov, evidently sharing this view, cut short his Crimean vacation to return home and secure the capital with roadblocks at strategic points and searches of vehicles.
The embassy attacks were themselves the sequel to the wave of terrorist unrest that swept Uzbekistan last March and April, for which 15 suspects are now on trial in Tashkent – hence the attack on the prosecutor-general’s offices.
The IMU, under its leader, Tahir Yuldashev, dreams of establishing an Islamic state in the broad Ferghana Valley which straddles Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and maintains training camp and bases in the valley not far from the Afghan and Chinese borders. Yuldashev, who spent the 1990s with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, returned to Tashkent at the beginning of this year, in flight from the massive US-backed Pakistan military hunt for top al Qaeda men in the mountains of southern Waziristan. His return sparked the March-April unrest and the first suicide attacks seen in the former Soviet Central Asian republic. They were followed by street battles with Uzbek security forces. Of the 47 killed in this round of violence, 33 were IMU-al Qaeda adherents, 15 of them suicide bombers.
Now as then, the IMF and even al Qaeda tacticians will not be the only ones to decide what happens next. Neither, according to debkafile‘s Central Asian sources, is President Islam Karimov, who has been battling the Islamic group for seven years.
His ambitious daughter, Gulnara Karimova-Maqsudi (see photo), a power in the land with command over her own judiciary, militia, commando-trained personal guard and intelligence system, is certainly a factor. A divorcee with two children, Islam, aged 11 and Iman, 6, Gulnara is maneuvering into position to succeed her father on the premise that the greater the domestic instability, the sooner she will achieve her goal. Our sources do not rule out the possibility that from time to time her agents quietly stir the terrorist pot and are in no hurry to reduce the heat under the brew.
A third factor is the multinational Islamic group, Hizb a-Tahrir (The Liberation Party), which maintains cells in most Muslim countries. Its activists in Arab Jerusalem surfaced last year for a punch-up against the former Egyptian foreign minister Ali Maher when he visited the al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount. While radical, this movement does not believe in ongoing terrorism – certainly not of the suicidal variety – but only a sharp, sudden act of violence capable of sweeping away a targeted secular regime and replacing it with an Islamic theocracy. Nonetheless Hizb a-Tahrir cannot be counted out of any surge of violence in Uzbekistan considering the brutal persecution its followers suffer at the ends of the Karimov regime.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has been committed to the path of violence since it was founded in 1989. Its exact membership is unknown but believed to be smaller than Hizb ut Tahrir’s 4,000 and 7,000 adherents. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, dozens and perhaps hundreds of eager Uzbek fundamentalists crossed south for intensive guerrilla training and Islamic religious indoctrination. Since the Taliban were ousted, IMU has declared war on the American air force and special forces based in Uzbekistan for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In two years, they have killed two US soldiers and wounded several others. They even tried to kidnap Americans from a secret base to ransom their jailed comrades. US and Uzbek authorities have kept a lid on these incidents to avoid giving the impression that a Central Asian Islamic front has opened against the United States. In neighboring Tajikistan, the IMU’s agents are supplied with money and logistical support by the Iranian embassy.
The Hisb a-Tarir, founded in the Middle East in 1953, is older, larger and less virulent than Yuldashev’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Hizb leader, Vahid Omran, stresses the objectives of his movement are to disseminate the word of Islam not spread death. Numbering an estimated 5,000 to 20,000 members around the Muslim world, Hizb ut Tahrir aspires to the establishment of a pan-Islamic caliphate rather than an Islamic republic across Central Asia, centered in the Ferghana Valley. Although not linked to al Qaeda, the group dispenses the usual Islamic fundamentalist fare of nostalgia for past Islamic glories, homophobia, anti-Semitism and more recently, anti-Americanism.
While not committed to violence, the Liberation Party will strike hard if an opportunity presents itself to overthrow the Uzbek or any other secular regime.This opportunity the Hizb a Tahrir expects an alliance between the IMU and Karimov’s daughter to create by continually chipping away at the regime’s stability. At some crucial point, therefore, Omran could switch tactics and make a grab for power.
Hizb ut Tahrir supporters live mainly in Samarkand and Bukhara, two important religious centers of the golden age of Islam situated along the traditional Silk Road.
Like many other parties and organizations in Central Asia, Hizb ut Tahrir maintains bases of operation in the southeastern Ferghana region near the border with Tajikistan. There, young Uzbeks are indoctrinated in Islamic fundamentalism and recruited into a “Muslim Education Corps”. Their proximity to al Qaeda and other fundamentalist Islamic facilities gives rise to the charge in Tashkent that the party is not just dispensing education but building terrorist cells.
Central Asian sources assert that by labeling Hizb ut Tahrir a terrorist organization, Karimov hopes to camouflage his own corruption.
His autocratic regime views the movement as a smoldering coal, as dangerous in its way as the IMU though for the moment more as a political rival. Karimov also treats the Hizb as a political scapegoat. At least 500 of its members are in jail where human rights groups say they are being tortured and held in sub-human conditions. Some its leaders live in exile in London, whence this week they accused the government of orchestrating the terrorist attacks and clashes as a pretext for more crackdowns.

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