Definitions

Islamic Group of Uzbekistan

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was a militant Islamist group formed in 1998 by former Soviet paratrooper Juma Namangani, and the Islamic ideologue Tohir Yuldashev - both ethnic Uzbeks from the Fergana Valley. Its objective was to overthrow President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, and to create an Islamic state under Sharia.

Operating out of bases in Tajikistan and Taliban-controlled areas of northern Afghanistan, the IMU launched a series of audacious raids into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. However, in 2001 the IMU was largely destroyed while fighting alongside the Taliban against United States-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Namangani was killed, and the IMU's remaining fighters were dispersed. Yuldeshev and an unknown number of fighters escaped with remnants of the Taliban to Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Since then the IMU has reportedly opened training camps in Waziristan and is now involved with other groups attempting to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

Despite occasional proclamations from Yuldeshev, and rumours of a re-emergence under the name the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT), there is no reliable evidence indicating that the IMU/IMT remains an operational force in Central Asia outside of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region.

Background

During the Soviet era, Islam in Central Asia was officially suppressed - mosques were closed, and all contact with the wider Muslim world was severed. This isolation ended with the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), when thousands of conscripts from Soviet Central Asia were sent to fight the Afghan mujahedin. Many of these conscripts returned home impressed by the Islamic zeal of their opponents, and newly aware of the religious, cultural and linguistic characteristics they shared with their neighbours in the South - and which distinguished them from their rulers in Moscow.

Adolat (1991-1992)

One such soldier sent to fight in Afghanistan was the Uzbek paratrooper, Jumaboi Ahmadzhanovitch Khojayev (b. 1969). Following the war, Khojayev returned to his hometown of Namangan in Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley radicalised by his experiences, and become associated with a local Islamic ideologue, Tohir Yuldashev (b.1967). In the period of initial instability that followed Uzbekistan's sudden independence in 1991, Yuldeshev and Khojayev (now adopting the nom de guerre Juma Namangani) established a radical Salafi Islamist group in Namangan which they called Adolat (Justice).

Adolat assumed civil authority in Namangan and quickly established a degree of order and security through the imposition of Sharia Law, which was ruthlessly enforced by Adolat's vigilante cadres. Initially tolerated by the newly installed President Karimov, Adolat became increasingly assertive, culminating in a demand that Karimov impose Sharia throughout Uzbekistan. However, by 1992 Karimov had successfully cemented his authority in Tashkent, and was strong enough to outlaw Adolat and re-establish central control over the Fergana Valley region - traditionally one of the most Islamic regions in Central Asia.

Tajik Civil War (1992-1997)

Evading arrest, Yuldashev and Namagani fled to Tajikistan, where civil war was raging following a bloody but successful coup led by Emomali Rahmonov earlier in 1992. The civil war pitted Rahmonov's neo-communist forces against a loose coalition of democrats and Islamists known as the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). The UTO was led by the widely popular and highly respected Islamist Said Abdullah Nuri, whose Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) advocated a moderate and democratic brand of Islamism.

Namangani's combat experience in Afghanistan saw him entrusted by the IRPT with the command of active units in the field, based out of the remote, mountainous Tavildara Valley region - a role he carried out with considerable success. Meanwhile, Yuldashev left Tajikistan on a tour of Afghanistan, Turkey and the Middle East, during which time he developed contacts with numerous Islamist groups. From 1995-8 Yuldashev was based in Peshawar in Pakistan, where he established relations with Osama Bin Laden and the Afghan Arabs based there at the time.

IMU Formation (1998)

In 1997 Rahmonov and Nuri signed a peace agreement which saw Rahmonov agree to sharing power with the IRPT. Disillusioned with the political concessions made by the Tajik Islamists, Yuldeshev and Namangani formed the IMU in 1998 with the aim of creating a militant Islamic oppostion to Karimov in Uzbekistan. Receiving initial funding and assistance from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the IMU began moving towards the Afghan Taliban and away from their former and more moderate IRPT allies - who were in turn backing the ethnic-Tajik Ahmad Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance against the Taliban.

Nevertheless, Namangani maintained his base in Tajikistan's Tavildara Valley, and was able to recruit large numbers of disaffected youth from the Fergana Valley, where economic hardship and religious persecution were continuing under Karimov's authoritarian rule.

Operations

1999

In 1999 a series of explosions in the capital Tashkent were orchestrated in an unsuccessful attempt on Karimov's life. Karimov placed the blame on radical Wahhabi Islamists, and the IMU in particular - however this attribution remains disputed, and it's possible the assassination attempt was the work of rival political and regional elites. Irrespective of who was responsible, the result was an escalation in Karimov's suppression of Islam, particularly in the traditionally observant Fergana Valley - a move which only increased the number of those fleeing Uzbekistan to join up with Namangani and the IMU in the Tavildara Valley.

Later that year the IMU conducted its first verifiable operations, with an incursion into the Batken region of southern Kyrgyzstan - a region populated mainly by ethnic Uzbeks, and lying between Tavildara in Tajikistan and the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan. Insurgents seized the Mayor of Osh (the regional capital) and successfully extorted a ransom from the ill-prepared Kyrgyz government in Bishkek, as well as a helicopter to transport them to Afghanistan. Further incursions into Batken followed, with one raid seeing a number of Japanese geologists kidnapped - although denied by Japan, their subsequent release almost certainly followed a significant ransom payment.

These raids had a major impact in Central Asia, and resulted in considerable international pressure on Tajikistan, not least from Karimov, to expel the IMU from its base in the Tavildara Valley. The IRPT persuaded their former ally Namangani to abandon Tavildara in late 1999. Controversially, Namangani and his fighters were then flown from Tajikistan to northern Afghanistan in Russian military helicopters - a move which enraged Karimov, who claimed the Russians were aiding the IMU in an attempt to undermine Uzbekistan.

2000

In Afghanistan Yuldeshev was able to exploit the contacts he had made on his earlier travels to negotiate freedom of operation from the Taliban, in return for providing them with assistance in their battle with Massoud's Northern Alliance. The IMU established offices and training camps, and began expanding their recruitment of disaffected Uzbeks - with their activities increasingly funded through their lucrative participation in the Afghan opium trade.

It is estimated that the IMU were now approximately 2000 strong, and in the spring they contributed around 600 fighters to the Taliban's offensive against Massoud, participating in the successful siege of Taloqan, where they fought alongside Bin Laden's 055 Arab Brigade. The IMU also provided the Taliban with a useful degree of deniability - under pressure from China to expel Uighur militants the Taliban simply sent them north to the IMU's camps.

By the summer of 2000 Western and CIS intelligence sources claim the IMU were equipped with more advanced weaponry such as sniper rifles and night-vision goggles, and had been supplied with a pair of heavy transport helicopters by Bin Laden. Namangani led IMU fighters back to the Tavildara Valley in Tajikistan, and from there launched multipronged attacks into Batken in Kyrgyzstan, and also into northern Uzbekistan, close to Tashkent.

In August 2000 the IMU also kidnapped four U.S. mountain-climbers in the Kara-Su Valley of Kyrgyzstan, holding them hostage until they escaped on 12 August. In response, the United States classified the IMU as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Once again the raids were followed by a strategic retreat to Tavildara, and once again international pressure on the Tajik government saw Namangani agree to him and his men being flown by the Russians back to Afghanistan, where they arrived in January 2001.

In his book Terror and Consent, Philip Bobbitt noted that Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a scientist of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, had met Osama bin Laden in Kabul in August 2001. Mahmood is said to have disclosed that bin Laden "insisted that he already had sufficient fissile material to build a [nuclear] bomb, having obtained it from former Soviet stockpiles through a militant Islamic group, the Islamic Movement of Ubekistan" (p120).

2001

By now the connections between the IMU and the Taliban had become more overt - the media reported that Namangani had been appointed Deputy Defence Minister in the Taliban government, which the Taliban did not deny. In the spring the IMU again supplied the Taliban with 600 fighters for a renewed campaign against Massoud, while in Batken in Kyrgyzstan a number of sleepers armed the previous year executed a series of attacks.

However, following 9/11 and the US-led coalition intervention in Afghanistan, the IMU was largely destroyed while fighting alongside the Taliban, and Namangani himself was killed. The IMU's fighters were scattered, with Yuldeshev and many others fleeing along with remnants of the Taliban to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

NB: In September 2002 an aide to Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, the Foreign Minister of the Taliban, claimed he had been sent prior to 9/11 to warn the U.S. government of an impending attack and to persuade them to take military action against Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan. The aide claimed advance knowledge of the attack came from Yuldashev, which if true would indicate a high degree of cooperation between Al-Qaeda and the IMU.

Current status

Despite remaining operationally inactive since 2001, the IMU continues to be cited as a terrorist threat by governments within and without the region.

In 2003 A. Elizabeth Jones, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, testified on the threat of terrorism in Central Asia before the U.S. House of Representatives' subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, arguing that the greatest threats were the IMU, and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Jones said that despite the death of Namangani, the "IMU is still active in the region -- particularly in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan -- and it represents a serious threat to the region and therefore to our interests." In addition, the Government of Russia banned the movement under the name "Islamic Party of Turkestan" in 2006.

On 7 August 2006 Kyrgyz special forces killed Rafik Kamalov, an alleged leader of the movement, in the Kyrgyz border town of Kara-Suu.

Mahmadsaid Juraqulov, head of the anti-organized crime department in the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan, told reporters in Dushanbe on 16 October 2006 that the "[Islamic Movement of Turkestan ] is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan," and that Uzbek secret services manufactured the change in name. Juraqulov also said that the IMT is not a major security threat to Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. "Everyone knows that it is in Uzbekistan that [the IMU] wants to create problems. For them, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are just regrouping bases they're trying to reach."

The Tajik Government wants 23 suspected IMU members who Tajik authorities say attacked supporters of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 28 September 2006, wounding two people. Between July 2006 and September 2007, 31 persons accused of IMU membership have been arrested in the Sughd region in the north of Tajikistan. They are usually sentenced to 12 - 18 years of prison.

However, while Yuldeshev has issued a number of pronouncements suggesting a widening of the IMU's focus, evidence does not support the notion that the IMU remains a credible threat in the region. Furthermore, events in early 2007 suggest that the IMU may no longer be able to count on refuge in Pakistan's tribal belt. In March local Pakistani and reportedly Arab militants turned against the IMU in the Wana conflict.

Some analysts have asserted that rather than the image of a unified IMU under Namangani and Yuldeshev, it has always been an organisation consisting of two poles - the radical, spiritual (Yuldeshev) and militant, criminal (Namangani). With the latter's death in 2001, it is probable a less mujahideen-style of warfare will emerge favouring terror-style attacks. The 2004 Tashkent bombings attributed to a group calling itself Islamic Jihad was certainly perpetrated by IMU operatives, either active or previously so.

Nevertheless, in a context of continued socieoeconomic deprivation and an absence of political pluralism, a resurgence of militant Islam in the region cannot be ruled out.

References

External links

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