Tajikistan: Alleged Extremist Cell Disbanded

Interior ministry says suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir group, which has been broken up in the Sogd region, was being funded from abroad.

Tajikistan: Alleged Extremist Cell Disbanded

Interior ministry says suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir group, which has been broken up in the Sogd region, was being funded from abroad.

Law enforcers in the northern Sogd region of Tajikistan claim to have broken up an active cell of the banned Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir organisation which was being funded from the United States.

Investigations have revealed that around 6,000 US dollars had been transferred from an individual in America, via banks in New York and Moscow, into an account held by one of the suspected members.

Zainiddin Abduvahobov - who was arrested at the end of January along with his relative Ziyofiddin Abduvahobov, Ibrahim Kayunov, and translator Saidkamoliddin Nasirov, all Khujand residents in their mid-20s - told investigators that the money had been transferred in this way since 1999.

The Tajik authorities suspect that part of the money has been used to translate and publish propaganda material – more than 3,000 books, magazines and pamphlets were allegedly found in a small underground printing house which was located in a garage. State-of-the-art computers and publishing equipment were seized in the raid.

As part of the same investigation, Khujand student Bakhtior Dodkhojaev was arrested last month. He was allegedly carrying dozens of Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and two cassettes when stopped by police.

Colonel Isroil Sadikov, head of Sogd’s interior ministry department, told IWPR that they suspect Zainiddin Abduvahobov of being behind the publishing operation. He is being charged with “publicly calling for violent constitutional change”.

His suspected accomplices are also accused of the same offence, as well as organising a criminal group and inciting ethnic, racial and religious discord.

Zainiddin Abduvahobov is believed to be a relatively high-ranking member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and is alleged to have controlled both the funding and field activities of the cell.

The detention of Abduvahobov and his translator, at the end of January, led to further arrests when police searched two flats apparently belonging to Ziyofiddin Abduvahobov, where they found 1,500 US dollars, a computer network power source, a book-binding device, 26 books and around 200 pamphlets. Walkie-talkies, videocassettes and computer disks allegedly containing information about Hizb ut-Tahrir were also confiscated.

According to Khujand’s regional prosecutor Tojiddin Turaev, the investigation is continuing, and the cases may take a number of months to come to court.

Analysts say that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s ideology has been spreading from neighbouring Uzbekistan over the past two years. The first suspected members arrested that year were mostly Uzbek citizens distributing leaflets in the Uzbek and Russian languages.

But evidence suggests that the group has been recruiting an increasing number of Tajiks.

Until now, apart from individual arrests, the Tajik police have not been able to crack the wider network of Hizb ut-Tahrir, due to the nature of the organisation and its structure. Intelligence reports suggest that the group is run by three leaders, who do not know the identities of individual cell members, dealing only with the head of each unit.

As a result, an increasing number of leaflets have been distributed. In one pamphlet seen by IWPR, the organisation calls for the creation of an Islamic caliphate (a state for all Muslims) in Central Asia and Afghanistan. It also advocates changing the current political system through propaganda work.

Hizb ut-Tahrir activists in Uzbekistan boast that thousands of Uzbeks have joined their ranks. In Tajikistan, where its activities are on a lesser scale, figures are not available but some analysts believe several hundred people may be involved.

Despite lack of evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir is linked to other militant groups in the region such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, governments across Central Asia have launched a series of crackdowns on them.

This in turn has prompted criticism from human rights organisations, which are concerned that the authorities are using the post-September 11 “terrorist” scares to clamp down on dissent within the former Soviet republics.

Madina Saifidinova is a journalist with the Varorud newspaper. Bakhtior Valiev is a journalist with the Leninabadskaya Pravda newspaper.

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