NEW INFORMATION EMERGES ON UZBEK ISLAMISTS, BUT IS IT ACCURATE?
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 234
The Russian newspaper Moskovsky novosti recently published an extensive interview with Shuhrat Masirokhunov, identified as the former chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s Counterintelligence Service. Masirokhunov was extradited from Pakistan to Uzbekistan a few months ago. His comments should provide considerable insight into the workings of the IMU.
Masirokhunov stated that in 1998 he attended a training camp for Islamic radicals located near the village of Avtury, Chechnya. Along with some 50 Uzbeks, he studied both religion and military tactics in courses taught by Arabs who spoke good Russian. After his training, Masirokhunov returned to Uzbekistan a year later.
Before departing for Uzbekistan, Masirokhunov was assigned to send money to Chechnya in order to support the Uzbek community in Chechnya. They also considered kidnapping the children of wealthy parents, mainly Jews. However, Masirokhunov said he failed to carry out that mission.
After the terrorist attacks in Tashkent in winter 1999, Masirokhunov had to flee Uzbekistan. He traveled through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Iran finally reaching the Chor-Aseb camp near Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Masirokhunov claims that al-Qaeda has no real unified structure; instead, each group of Islamic terrorists acts autonomously. Information and instructions are circulated among the cells via the Internet. “For example, [Abu Musab] al-Zarqari in Iraq. He is called a representative of [Osama] bin Laden, but it is not true; he is on his own. It was not long ago that we got in touch with him and offered help to him, but he refused to accept it. I met with al-Zarqari two years ago,” Masirokhunov continued. “There was nothing outstanding about him, and back then I was much higher in our hierarchy.”
According to Masirokhunov, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has refashioned itself as the Islamic Movement of Turkistan (IMT) to include not only ethnic groups from all Central Asian republics, but also Uighurs from China. The main IMT camps are still located along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Hanta-Thal ravine and near the village of Vana. Each camp has about 100 people, mostly from Central Asia, Russia, and some Arabs. Masirokhunov claims that the Pakistani military is not even trying to eliminate the IMT insurgents.
“You know how special operations are conducted against the militants in Pakistan? They encircle us and it looks like there is no escape for us, but Pakistani soldiers show us where to go: ‘There, there, go there, leave, it is clear there!’ If Pakistan starts fighting against us, the whole country will explode, because people in Pakistan sympathize with us. That is why they pretend to help America, but in fact they are helping us. Where does bin Laden live? In Pakistan. And they cannot get him? Of course, they can,” Masirokhunov told the paper (Moskovsky novosti, November 25-December 1).
There is little doubt that at least part of the information Masirokhunov provided is true. The information about Uzbeks training in camps in Chechnya, as well as about Chechen instructors training IMU militants in the mountains of Tajikistan, has been mentioned many times in the Russian press (e.g., Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 16, 2000; Novye izvestiya, October 21, 2003).
However, many independent analysts find the interview suspect. “One cannot take seriously an ‘interview’ with the ‘main counterintelligence spy’ published in Moskovsky novosti for several reasons,” writes Arkady Dubnov of Vremya novosti. “The main reason is obvious. One cannot trust any words ascribed to someone who is in an Uzbek jail. One can see that the words are not in line with reality from watching the TV reports about the Tashkent trial of people accused of the Andijan events. The first proceedings of the trial have recently ended. One can simply imagine how Uzbek prison guards extracted similarly profound and memorized testimonies from the accused in that case” (www.fergana.ru, November 28).
Dubnov also pointed out some apparent errors in the Moskovsky novosti interview. For example, Masirokhunov claims that he spent seven years in Afghanistan. But, according to Dubnov, “Masirokhunov fled from Uzbekistan in winter 1999, and Pakistan extradited him in 2005; a simple calculation shows the number to be six.” Dubnov also points out that people who know the situation in Uzbekistan considered Masirokhunov’s statement that he had transferred several thousand dollars to Uzbekistan through Western Union to be absurd. According to journalists, sending such money to Uzbekistan on a regular basis is simply fantasy.
“There is not any sense in analyzing this ‘interview’,’ Dubnov declared. “It is a short list of what information the Uzbek Secret Service possesses about activities of the international terrorist network and that they permitted to be published. And publishing the interview is an ordinary, so-called ‘active measure’ conducted under the brand of a formerly respectable newspaper” Dubnov added (fergana.ru, November 28).