Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 119

According to Kazakhstanskaya pravda, officials from the Committee for National Security (KNB) for South Kazakhstan blast extradited Odillkhon Mominov, a citizen of Uzbekistan, back to his homeland. Tashkent wanted Mominov “for his participation in illegal extremist religious organizations of the Wahhabite orientation.” According to the newspaper, Mominov “was one of the active proponents of the Wahhabite ideology in Uzbekistan and he has been wanted by the Uzbek special services since March 1999.” This is the fifth case in three years of Kazakhstani special services extraditing citizens of neighboring countries who were suspected of active participation in illegal extremist religious organizations and terrorist activities (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, October 30).

Investigations of the terrorist acts in Tashkent, which occurred in March-April of this year, as well as those that took place on July 30, 2004, frequently mention the presence of “Kazakhstani fingerprints” on the plan. In addition, when the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan tried the suspected organizers of a series of terrorist acts on March 28-April 1, 2004, in Tashkent and Bukhara oblast, indictment stated that the attackers had trained in terrorist camps located on the territory of Kazakhstan. The training camps in southern Kazakhstan were also allegedly used to transfer militants via Azerbaijan and Iran to Pakistan and Afghanistan (Interfax, July 26). Notably, although Astana initially denied this information, on September 10, 2004, at an expanded meeting of the defense committee of the parliament of Kazakhstan, the first deputy chairman of the KNB, Vladimir Bozhko, admitted that the territory of Kazakhstan was used for transferring some terrorists from Uzbekistan via Aktau (Kazakhstan) and Baku (Azerbaijan) to training camps in Afghanistan (Interfax, September 10). As it turned out later, the terrorist who blew himself up inside the building of Uzbekistan’s Prosecutor General on July 30, 2004, was also a Kazakhstani citizen of Uzbek origin. This fact was confirmed by the testimonies of two defendants accused of organizing terrorist acts in Uzbekistan in March-April of 2004 (Gazeta.kz, August 28, 2004; EDM, August 5).

In principle, the “Kazakhstani fingerprints” on terrorist acts committed on the territory of Uzbekistan can be explained in a logical manner. First, ethnic Uzbeks constitute more than 20% of the population of the Southern Kazakhstani oblast, which borders Uzbekistan. Second, the distribution of the population is such that the ethnic Uzbeks live in compact enclaves. For instance, in Sairam district, which is one of the suburbs of Shymkent, the South Kazakhstan oblast center, ethnic Uzbeks constitute more than 90% of the population, which earns the district the title “Little Uzbekistan.” Astana’s policy vis-a-vis Islamic radicals is far more liberal than the one in Uzbekistan, which forces Islamists from Uzbekistan to seek refuge in Kazakhstan. In essence, the Kazakhstani authorities are not denying these circumstances. Several months ago, the chief specialist of religious affairs for the South Kazakhstan oblast administration, Vladimir Zharinov, explained, “Many Uzbeks from the Tashkent oblast have relatives in Kazakhstan. And, naturally, in such a situation we cannot say for sure which of the Uzbekistani Islamists are sought after by the Uzbekistani authorities” (See EDM, August 5).

It appears that in order not to irritate Tashkent, Astana has decided to toughen its policy towards the Islamic fundamentalists in South Kazakhstan, and this is reflected in the recent extradition of citizens of Uzbekistan who are hiding from prosecution there.

However, the actions of the Kazakhstani authorities do invite some skepticism. For instance, the term “Wahhabite” in Central Asia is used as a label to describe Muslims who distance themselves from the official Muslim clerical establishment. As a rule, the so-called Central Asian “Wahhabites” have nothing in common with the Wahhabite strand of Islam, which is predominant mostly in Saudi Arabia. This is why it is plausible to suggest that the present extradition of an Uzbek citizen is intended to create the impression that Kazakhstan’s special services are actively engaged in counter-terrorist activities, while in reality the citizen extradited to Uzbekistan has no relation with the terrorist underground.