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

No End to Uzbek Terror

Exiled Uzbek terrorists appear determined to continue their struggle against the Taskent authorities
By IWPR

For the last ten years, Takhir Yuldashev and Juma Khodjiev, better known as Takhir Yuldash and Juma Namangani, have been waging a relentless terrorist campaign against the authorities in Uzbekistan.


The two men are leaders of the opposition Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, accused by the authorities of a series of crimes - the most notorious being the bomb attack in Tashkent early last year, in which 16 people were killed and over a hundred injured.


Recently, the US State Department included the movement in its annual list of international terrorist organisations.


Yuldash and Namangani, both in their early thirties, command a group of around 5,000 militants. They grew up in the Fergana Valley, long a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, where they launched militant religious groups committed to the creation of an Islamic


state in Uzbekistan.


The Tashkent government pursued both men, forcing them to flee to neighbouring countries - which they've used as bases for their ideological and military struggle against the Uzbek authorities.


Takhir Yuldash, set up the so-called Party for the Islamic Rebirth of Uzbekistan. "He had a talent for influencing crowds, great oratory power and was well versed Islamic teaching," recalled Ismail Dadadzhanov, the head of the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Forces in the Fergana Valley.


He first challenged the Uzbek leadeship in 1991, leading a group of Islamic radicals who seized the former Communist Party headquarters in the city of Namangan.


An enormous sign was erected in the building's central hall."Long live the Islamic State!" it declared. Video footage of the incident showed excited youngsters listening to Yuldash's fiery rhetoric. "When we create an Islamic state we will deal with those who opposed us, and those who didn't attend Mosque, "he stormed.


Yuldash called on President Islam Karimov to come to Namangan to hear his demands for a fundamentalist Muslim state. Karimov duly arrived and managed to diffuse the crisis.


Following the incident, Yuldash fled to Afghanistan. There he trained Uzbek youngsters for his military struggle against the Tashkent authorities.


The extremist Wahabbi organisation, Tavba (Repentence), set up by him and Namangani was forced to go into hiding. Namangani took over the leadership of the group, which was accused of beating up government officials and killing policemen in Namangan between 1994 and 1997.


In 1992, Namangani fought alongside Tajik opposition forces against the Dushanbe government. While in Tajikistan, he is said to have become an important field commander and to have launched raids into southern Kyrgyzstan last year. Earlier this month, he and several hundred of his fighters are reported to have moved to a Taleban controlled region of the north-east Afghanistan, where Yuldash is believed to be based.


It's thought Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is close to the Taleban authorities. According to Uzbek Interior Ministry officials, both groups finance much of their activities through drugs smuggling across Central Asia. Yuldash and Namangani provide gunmen to secure the trafficking routes across the region.


Both men continue to draw recruits from the Fergana Valley, mostly young disaffected men looking to escape chronic unemployment and economic privations.


But an even worse fate faces recruits who become disillusioned with Islamic militancy.


A year ago, seventeen Uzbek men who'd tried to break ranks with Namangani's organisation were found decapitated in a mass grave in Tajikistan.


With no end to the cycle of terrorism in sight, some in Uzbekistan believe the government should attempt to negotiate some sort of peace settlement with the militants.


"The state should sit down and talk with these people," said a member of the independent Society for Human Rights in Uzbekistan. "After all, they are all citizens of Uzbekistan. The government should find out what they want and come to an agreement with them."


So far, the government, which continues to view the Islamists as common criminals, has rejected such appeals. "If they are fighting for the common good, then their methods and achievements should be good," said Uzbekistan's chief prosecutor, Makhmud Shaumarov. "How can a religious fighter blow up innocent people?"


Galima Bukharbaeva is the IWPR project editor in Tashkent