On the night of December 25-26, 2004, law-enforcement officials in Tajikistan attempted to apprehend a member of the Islamic terrorist organization Bayat, Ali Aminov, in the village of Chorku, Isfara district, Sogdy oblast (northern Tajikistan). Law-enforcement agents had received a tip that Aminov was hiding in his sister’s house. At approximately 1 am a police task force surrounded the house and attempted to storm the compound to apprehend the terrorist. However, the occupants responded with armed resistance and the standoff soon deteriorated into full-blown armed confrontation. The police task force retreated under heavy fire and called for backup. A special forces regiment arrived by 4 am. Upon entering the house, the members of the special forces team encountered resistance from Aminov’s relatives. Aminov himself managed to escape through a secret passage (Vecherny Bishkek, December 29).
The first indications of Bayat’s existence (“bayat” means “a vow” in Arabic) appeared in the press in April 2004, when Tajikistan’s special services apprehended 20 members of this organization in the Isfara oblast of northern Tajikistan. The suspects were accused of carrying out several aggravated criminal acts that were motivated by racial and religious hatred. The group was charged with the January 2004 assassination of the head of the Baptist community in Isfara, Sergei Bessarab, as well as torching several mosques that were headed by imams, whom the terrorists believed had exhibited excessive loyalty to the ruling regime. According to the Office of the Prosecutor-General of Tajikistan, the suspects resisted arrest and searches of their houses, carried out by law-enforcement officials, turned up hidden arms caches.
Bayat is not affiliated with such outlawed organizations as Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which are better known in the region. Nor does Bayat maintain any links with the only legally functioning Islamic organization: the Party of Islamic Revival of Tajikistan. According to some sources, the Bayat activists are Tajik citizens who previously had fought on the side of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, and some of them are now imprisoned at the American military base in Guantanamo, Cuba. A connection between Bayat and the IMU should not be ruled out, however, because IMU militants have been known to operate in the Fergana Valley, and they also fought along side the Afghan Taliban members (see EDM, May 3, 2004). Currently Bayat is trying to spread its influence to neighboring countries. Thus, a branch of the Bayat movement was recently opened in Osh, Kyrgyzstan (Vecherny Bishkek, December 29).
Isfara is a very special region in Tajikistan. The population there is more religious than in other regions of the country. In July 2002 the President of Tajikistan, Imomali Rakhmonov, visited the city of Isfara and stated that three citizens, who were originally from the Isfara region and who had fought on the side of Taliban, were being held at Guantanamo. Furthermore, the Party of Islamic Revival of Tajikistan is particularly strong in the Isfara region. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, the majority of this region’s population voted for the Party of Islamic Revival. Moreover, in the main Islamist enclave — the village of Chorku — 93% of the votes cast were for the Party of Islamic Revival (Forum18.org, May 27, 2004). In a sense, Chorku, albeit to a lesser degree, resembles the Islamist enclave in the village of Karamakhi in Dagestan, which was destroyed by Russian troops in 1999. For example, both villages strictly prohibited alcohol consumption and required women to wear veils while in public. The centers of public life are mosques, and the imams adjudicate and resolve all disputes in accordance with the Sharia law.
The Islamist enclave in Isfara region is dangerous also because of its geographic location. Isfara is located in the Fergana Valley section of Tajikistan, only a few kilometers from the Uzbek and Kyrgyz parts of the Fergana Valley. The Valley is widely considered to be one of the most potentially volatile areas in Central Asia. In 1989 anti-Jewish pogroms took place in Andizhan (Uzbekistan), which led to the exodus of the Jewish population from that city. That same year, inter-ethnic clashes between Uzbeks and Meskhetian Turks broke out in the Uzbek city of Fergana, which resulted in 150 casualties and the mass exodus of Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan. In 1990 inter-ethnic clashes between local Uzbeks and Kyrgyz claimed 320 lives in Osh oblast (Kyrgyzstan). Furthermore, all the leaders and the majority of the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are originally from the Fergana Valley. The addition of another militant group will hardly calm the region.