Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Hizb-ut-Tahrir Blamed for Violence in Kyrgyz South

Plans for new restrictions on Islamic groups following killings of police and soldiers in the south.
By Taalaibek Amanov
The Kyrgyz authorities are planning a series of measures to curb the activities of radical Muslim organisations after blaming the outlawed Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir for a spate of violent incidents in the south of the country.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir professes to use non-violent means to achieve its goal of a “caliphate” or Islamic state, but Kyrgyzstan and other countries in the region allege that its members have been responsible for a string of fatal shootings and bombings in recent years.

Most recently, the group has been linked to two clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan. On July 14, the news agency reported that security forces confronted a group of five Kalashnikov-wielding militants in the city of Jalalabad, killing all of them.

The five were reported to be part of a larger group behind the July 9 killing of a traffic policeman, who was shot at point blank range, in Jalalabad, and the injuring of two policemen and a civilian in a shootout in the same area the following day.

Fifteen people were arrested after these shootings, and interior ministry spokeswoman Aida Bakirova said at least three of them were Hizb-ut-Tahrir members.

These incidents came as 300 soldiers continued an operation in the Batken region mounted after a suspected Hizb-ut-Tahrir attack on Kyrgyz and Tajik frontier posts on May 12, which left six Kyrgyz and three Tajik soldiers dead.

In their sweep of the border region, the soldiers are said to have found substantial evidence connecting those involved in July 9 shootings with the May attacks, including guns, ammunition, Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature, compact discs and audiotapes.

The authorities say six men arrested and charged with involvement in the earlier attacks are active members of the outlawed movement. “ [An] investigation was able to gather indisputable evidence that all the people charged are members…” said the prosecutor for the Batken region, Ryskul Baktybaev.

“During the investigation and interrogations, all six admitted they were guilty and did not hide that they were followers of radical Islam. Their goal was to commit a series of terrorist acts on the territory of the Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.”

In the immediate aftermath of the May attacks, there was much speculation about the identity of the culprits. Hizb-ut- Tahrir was suspected along with the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, but some suggested that the raid was the work of common criminals, possibly drug smugglers.

Prosecutor Baktybaev said it was now clear that Hizb-ut-Tahrir was no longer the “peace-loving organisation” of the early Nineties when it first appeared and that followers were involved with other extremist Islamic groups in the region.

“There is a direct link between members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU,” he said.

Nurnek Tokoev, an officer in the Kyrgyz National Security Service, said support for Hizb-ut-Tahrir was growing, and warned that Islamic militancy threatened the state.

“[It] has greater number of supporters in Kyrgyzstan than any political party registered in our country; according to unofficial statistics there are already around 10,000 of them. Furthermore, they are very secretive, which makes it difficult for special services to detect them,” he said.

On July 12 - before the latest clash - senior Kyrgyz official Adakhan Madumarov said the state planned to introduce a number of measures to curb the activities of radical Muslim organisations, including tightening controls on outside funding and restrictions on visits by foreign clerics.

“Our country is a paradise for religion. So in the interests of security of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan, it is time to start controlling the visits of religious figures - who come to our country in great numbers - and control what they preach. The state is obliged to know about this,” he said.

Kanat Tyukeev, an independent researcher at the Peaceful Asia centre, said the time had come for the authorities to do more to stop the spread of religious extremism.

“Religious organisations use extremism to achieve their goals. For Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, this is the main source of danger. Ignoring this problem is the height of carelessness.

“Our country is too small to withstand the growing activity of the extremist groups Hizb-ut Tahrir and IMU… conducting subversive activity in the Fergana Valley.”

Any sign of militancy in southern Kyrgyzstan rattles the government, and Hizb-ut- Tahrir and the IMU make obvious suspects, even though the former publicly disavows violence and the IMU has not repeated the guerrilla raids of 1999-2001 since its forces were scattered along with its Taleban allies when the US-led Coalition attacked northern Afghanistan in late 2001.

As a result, not everyone agrees there is a coordinated Islamic insurgency waiting to happen.

Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman, Tursunbay Bakir Uuly told IWPR, “When armchair analysts say the main threat to Kyrgyzstan comes from the dissemination of Hizb-ut-Tahrir ideas or religious extremism, I don’t think they’re aware of the realities. If they’d engaged closely with Hizb-ut-Tahrir members or negotiated with IMU leaders as I’ve done… they wouldn’t suggest these two organisations are the same. They are two opposing trends that hate each other and accuse one another of not being real Muslims.

“Going on about Hizb-ut-Tahrir and other organisations just gives them extra publicity.”

Taalaibek Amanov is an independent journalist in Bishkek.

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