Reliable sources in Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs are claiming that two of the three suicide bombers who committed detonated explosions in Tashkent on July 30 were Kazakhstani citizens of Uzbek descent.
In a related development, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan has begun the trial of the accused organizers of a series of previous terrorist acts, which took place on March 28-April 1, 2004, in Tashkent and Bukhara oblast. In his opening statement, prosecutor Murad Khalikov read the indictment, which charges that the terrorists had prepared for the attack while at militant training camps inside Kazakhstan (Interfax, July 26). The National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB) categorically rejected Khalikov’s information. In a press release, the KNB stated that when Kazakhstan’s special services investigated whether these camps existed on the territory of the country, it found no such installations. According to the head of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs for the South Kazakhstan oblast, General Raimkhan Uzbekgaliev, such accusations have become customary after domestic flare-ups in neighboring Uzbekistan (Kazakhstan Today, July 27).
In principle, the “Kazakhstani” fingerprints on the terrorist acts in Uzbekistan seem plausible. Many ethnic Uzbeks live in Kazakhstan. For example, in city of Shymkent, the center of the South Kazakhstan oblast and near the border with Uzbekistan, ethnic Uzbeks constitute more than 25% of the population. The Sairam district, actually a suburb of Shymkent, is referred to as “Little Uzbekistan,” because ethnic Uzbeks constitute more than 90% of the local population.
Astana’s policy towards the Islamic radicals is far more liberal than Uzbekistan’s approach. For example, in Kazakhstan fewer than ten people have been arrested for their alleged membership in the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HUT) party. In contrast, any individual in Uzbekistan who is found in possession of HUT materials is sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison. According to international human rights organizations, there are approximately 7,000 political prisoners in Uzbek jails, including 5,000 who are accused of being HUT members (Terrorism Monitor, November 7, 2003). The more liberal attitude displayed by Kazakhstani authorities consequently encourages the Islamists from Uzbekistan to seek refuge in Kazakhstan. For the most part, the Kazakhstani authorities do not deny this. Several months ago, the chief specialist on religious affairs from the South Kazakhstan oblast administration, Vladimir Zharinov, conceded, “Many Uzbeks in the Tashkent oblast have relatives in Kazakhstan. And, naturally, in such a situation we cannot guarantee that some of the Uzbek Islamists [living in South Kazakhstan] are actually sought after by the Uzbekistani authorities.”
A similar situation can be observed in southern Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic Uzbeks constitute approximately 30% of the population. Bishkek’s more liberal policy towards the Islamist radicals also encourages Uzbek Islamists from Uzbekistan to seek refuge in Kyrgyzstan. However, Uzbekistan’s special services have been known to cross the border to arrest Islamists on the territory of the neighboring country and without informing their Kyrgyzstani colleagues. For these operations, Tashkent usually sends Uzbeks who were born in southern Kyrgyzstan, but later received Uzbekistani citizenship and were recruited by Uzbekistan’s special services. The Uzbek agents have abducted not only citizens of Uzbekistan but also Kyrgyzstani nationals. The Uzbekistani special services are known to have “extradited” at least six citizens of Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan (Forum-18, October 21, 2003). Although Uzbekistan’s special services have not yet extended their activities to the more powerful Kazakhstan, relations between Tashkent and Astana are becoming more complex.