According to an unidentified official from the Northwest Frontier, Pakistani security forces have launched a search for the widow of a suspected Uzbek terrorist. Accused of establishing a training camp for female suicide bombers along the Afghan-Pakistan border, the woman’s husband is said to have been a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), killed during Pakistani military operations in the region in January. Pakistani government officials claim that some 400 non-Pakistani fighters are currently hiding in the mountainous border area, including Uzbeks, Arabs and Afghans (Reuters, May 19). This statement comes amidst reports that the IMU is reconstituting itself into a new movement – the Islamic Party of Turkestan (IPT) – in an attempt to unite radical Islamists throughout Central Asia following IMU losses in 2001-02 (Bloomberg, May 19).
Reports such as this indirectly corroborate statements by Uzbek government officials, who have alleged that IMU militants and other Islamic extremists are responsible for the series of recent terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan. Approximately 47 people died in a spate of attacks from late March to early April of this year. At least some of these attacks were carried out by women suicide bombers who detonated improvised explosive devices strapped to their bodies. Shortly after the attacks, many human rights organizations and NGOs, as well as some Western political figures, including the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, stated that terrorist acts in Uzbekistan were a consequence of extreme poverty and blatant human rights violations in the country. According to critics, Tashkent is deliberately trying to blame international terrorists (that is, the external forces) for the terrorist acts, while in reality the tragic events stem from an internal crisis of Uzbekistan.
Following the commencement of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan, the IMU substantially reduced its activities, prompting many terrorism experts to conclude that the IMU had been destroyed. However, clashes in the tribal zones of northwest Pakistan between Islamic militants and the Pakistani army in March in essence answered three years of debate over whether the U.S. military had eliminated the IMU.
Earlier this year the head of Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Service Kalyk Imankulov stated that Uighur separatists had managed to unite forces with the IMU to create the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (Delo, January 26, 2004). His assertion was confirmed in a recent interview with former IMU militant Bahtier Uzakov, nephew of IMU founder Juma Namangani. In an exclusive interview with the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasian Daily Monitor, Uzakov indicated that the IMU is only one of several organizations represented in the units — along with Uighur, Tajik and Arab groups — of the Unified Armed Movement of Islamic Fundamentalists (see Terrorism Monitor, December 18, 2003).
Uzakov’s assertion appears to support arguments used by Uzbek government officials, who continually refer to the threat emanating from the southern regions of the country. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov told the Deutsche Welle news agency that “the creeping expansion is continuing from the south. Many of our southern neighbors host training camps and shooting ranges, where people who were recruited in Central Asia participate in military training. Some say that these are predominantly Uzbeks! In fact, one can find anyone one wishes to find there! Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Kazakhs!” (Deutsche Welle, May 22, 2004).
In light of these developments, it is plausible to assume that if militants from the Islamic Movement of Turkestan are really responsible for terrorist acts in Uzbekistan, more terrorist activities and operations can be anticipated in the near future in Central Asia — not necessarily only in Uzbekistan. It is also possible to suggest that members of the terrorist and fundamentalist organization Bayat, who were recently apprehended in the town of Isfara in northern Tajikistan (see EDM, May 3), are connected with the Islamic Movement of Turkestan. The mayor of the town of Isfara, Muzasharif Islamuddinov, told Jamestown, “The first time news about Bayat appeared in our district was 1997, when law enforcement officials apprehended a Uzbek citizen, who was charged with murder and who was a close relative of one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” At the time, according to Islamuddinov, law enforcement authorities established that the killer was tied to Bayat.