WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 526 Part 2, 13 January, 2008



In a region racked by poverty and discontent, modern technology offers 
extremists a way of making themselves heard. 

By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad  




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In a region racked by poverty and discontent, modern technology offers 
extremists a way of making themselves heard. 


By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad


Muhammad Amin is an angry man. A devout Muslim from the south of Kyrgyzstan, he 
is a passionate supporter of the exiled Islamic radical Tahir Yoldash who - 
from his refuge on Pakistan's lawless frontier - beams back a message of 
revolution through CDs and DVDs.


In the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, such messages fall on stony ground. Secular in 
outlook and influenced by Russia, the city and the rest of the north seem more 
orientated towards Moscow and the West than to the Islamic world.


But it is another story in the poorer south, where a large percentage of the 
population are ethnic Uzbeks. There, a deadly cocktail of poverty and a 
long-felt sense of injustice have created a sizeable constituency of people 
sympathetic to the views of men like Yoldash and his Islamic Movement of 
Uzbekistan, IMU. 


In an interview with IWPR, Amin - freshly returned from six months in Saudi 
Arabia and other Arab states - said Yoldash's rhetoric struck a powerful chord 
with a growing number of people in Central Asia who are disillusioned with 
poverty, political repression and governments that kow-tow to Washington.


"There are videos of his recorded messages everywhere," Amin said of Yoldash. 
"People watch them with approval and are loyal to him."


Amin said attempts by the authoritarian regime in neighbouring Uzbekistan to 
discredit Yoldash were getting nowhere. 


"Recently, the [local state Uzbek] television station in Namangan showed a 
young former fighter of Tohir Yoldash's who accused him of all sorts of 
things," he said. "But most people have more faith in the prohibited videos 
than they do in official information." 


Amin agrees with the IMU's condemnation of western influence in Central Asia. 
Yoldash has said, "Wherever the feet of these infidels tread, there is 
prostitution, drug addiction, killing and robbery."  




Yoldash is himself no stranger to killing. He was one of the founding members 
of the IMU, set up in the mid-Nineties with the aim of overthrowing the 
government in Tashkent. Later it widened its aims to the creation of an Islamic 
state embracing all of Central Asia. Some observers therefore believe in the 
existence of a broader entity called the "Islamic Movement of Turkestan", 
although there is little real evidence that this exists.  


The IMU has its roots in the Fergana Valley of the early Nineties, when Yoldosh 
played a leading role in Adolat, a localised Islamic group in his home city of 
Namangan. Followers of this group were eventually driven out and moved to 
Tajikistan, where they formed an effective guerrilla unit fighting on the side 
of the United Tajik Opposition against the government there. 


When the Tajik civil war ended in a deal providing reconciliation and 
disarmament for local combatants, the now seasoned Uzbek guerrillas shifted to 
Afghanistan where they renamed themselves the IMU and found ready allies in the 
Taleban. Yoldosh appears to have played little role in the group's armed 
operations at this point, the leading light being one Juma Khojiev, aka 


The IMU shot to world prominence during 1999 and 2000, when it staged audacious 
armed incursions from bases it still maintained in the Tajik mountains into the 
Batken region of Kyrgyzstan, and into Uzbekistan itself. The guerrillas' 
ultimate aim was to attack and depose the Uzbek government of Islam Karimov, 
but apart from creating headlines and unsettling some Central Asian leaders, 
they made few real military inroads. 


When the United States-led Coalition arrived in Afghanistan in late 2001, the 
IMU presence in the north of the country was dispersed and driven out along 
with the Taleban. Juma Namangani was killed in fighting and Yoldosh took on the 
leading role.


The remnants of the IMU have since regrouped in Waziristan in Pakistan's 
North-West Frontier Province, from where they reportedly assist the resurgent 


The IMU is on the US government's list of foreign terrorist organisations, and 
Washington last year named Yoldash as one of the 12 most-wanted Taleban and 
al-Qaeda leaders. 


In October, there were media reports that Yoldash had been killed during an 
insurgent foray into Afghanistan, but these were not substantiated.


The Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities often equate the IMU with another banned 
group, Hizb-ut Tahrir, but the two are historically different, and supporters 
of the latter say they reject Yoldosh's use of force.




Whatever its present strength, the IMU has - purely for geographical reasons - 
little capacity to mount guerrilla raids into Central Asia, on the other side 
of Afghanistan.  


However, Yoldash continues to maintain visibility in the region, if only in a 
virtual way, by cleverly exploiting the availability of cheap CD and DVD 
players imported from China.  


Voice recordings on CD and DVD films featuring Yoldash are on sale in the 
region, although vendors are careful to be discreet. 


If a customer goes to the right person and asks for a "Tom and Jerry video", he 
or she will be handed a production by Yoldosh rather than Hollywood. 


It is hard to assess the availability or popularity of this underground 
material in the Uzbekistan - the IMU's primary target - because of the heavy 
control exerted by the authorities there. But southern Kyrgyzstan, 
geographically part of the Fergana Valley and home to a large Uzbek minority, 
is now the place where videos featuring Yoldash are more widely available than 
anywhere else in Central Asia. 


Yoldash's videos come in many forms. One watched by IWPR took the form of an 
interview recorded in "Khorasan", in other words Afghanistan, in which the 
bearded and turbaned IMU leader predicts the collapse of the United States and 
discusses his group's future strategies.


Significantly, he calls on Muslims to be patient and show faith in the IMU 
despite its apparent absence from the scene, and he insists the organisation 
remains active. 


As Yoldash explains the essence of jihad or holy war, the documentary-style 
programme shows film clips of purported IMU manoevres, shots of dead mujahedin 
and footage of some US soldiers allegedly shooting at a copy of the Koran, 
cutting it to shreds. 


"We must establish the rule of Allah over his property," Yoldash can be heard 
saying, "We will fight until all religions are subdued by Islam." 


In the video, Yoldash divides the story of the Muslim holy war in Central Asia 
into three historical phases - Soviet repression, events in Uzbekistan and 
Tajikistan in the Nineties, and now - a time when "the fight against all 
infidels" must commence. 


"Now the world is divided into two camps - the Muslims and the enemies of Islam 
that include Jews, Christians and other forces," he continues. "They have 
launched a new crusade against us and our mission now is to settle accounts 
with the enemies of Islam across the world." 


Yoldash never specifically mentions the creation of an Islamic state in Central 
Asia in this video. Instead, he urges Muslims around the world to fight the 
infidels "who have deprived Muslims of everything they once had - shrines and 
lands - and have infringed the honour of Muslim women and men".   


Though Yoldash speaks in Uzbek, his publicity material has the look of 
something intended for a wider audience. There is, for example, narrative and 
footage reflecting events in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well more immediate 
concerns like the 2005 Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan. 




At first sight, this kind of message would seem to have little general appeal 
in Kyrgyzstan, where the government and general environment are more liberal 
than in the other Central Asian states. 


Poverty and a sense of injustice fed by corruption and arbitrary law 
enforcement are prevalent in southern Kyrgyzstan, and may play into the hands 
of zealots like Yoldash.


Recent statistics suggest that more than four out of ten people in a population 
of just over five million live below the poverty line. 


While poverty exists in all parts of the country, it is severest in the south, 
especially rural areas. A proportion of these people are susceptible to calls 
to replace the current political system which they blame for their problems 
with an alternative model based on Islamic laws.   


The active radical presence in the region is not the Yoldash's group, however, 
but Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a different group that insists it does not advocate 
violence, and does not share the IMU's past record as a high-profile guerrilla 
group. Hizb-ut-Tahrir continues to attract adherents despite its activities 
being banned in Kyrgyzstan and thousands of its members being jailed in 


Nevertheless, Shamshibek Zakirov of the Kyrgyz government's Agency for 
Religious Affairs, admits Yoldash has also gained followers in the country, 
especially among the clergy. 


"I do not rule out that there are supporters of Tohir Yoldash in our country," 
he told IWPR. "Frankly, if they were allowed to do so, many imams would follow 




Human rights groups in Kyrgyzstan believe the level of religiosity in the 
south, and to some degree extremism, may be increasing for other reasons apart 
from sheer poverty and economic despair. 


Azimjan Askarov, leader of the Vozdukh group which focuses on torture in the 
penal system, says the Kyrgyz police and judiciary are wholly discredited in 
many people's eyes. 


"The state bodies, especially the law-enforcement organisations, have become 
[seen as] the enemies of the people," he said. 


"Recently, in our district, three people who stole three chickens were 
sentenced to several years in prison, whereas officials and investigators take 
large bribes openly without being punished." 


Askarov continued, "The authorities don't deal with the problems facing the 
population, so people are left with nothing but to believe in those who promise 
a decent life under a caliphate." 


Meanwhile, the behaviour of the police towards alleged IMU activists often 
arouses indignation. 


Last autumn, for example, the Kyrgyz National Security Service in Jalalabad 
reported the capture of an IMU activist named Jalaliddin. 


After failing to capture him in an earlier special operation, police detained 
his wife instead and, according to media and local rights activists, severely 
beat her inside Jalalabad police station. 


"No one knows what the guilt of this family is," one local rights activist told 
IWPR, speaking anonymously. "All information on the case is closed. Meanwhile, 
according to our resources, as a result of the constant abuse, this woman lost 
the ability to bear children."


Zakirov said the authorities had made a serious error in not following up on a 
promise to publicly investigate another case, the shooting last year of 
Muhammadrafik Kamalov, a popular imam in the southern town of Karasuu.


The killing outraged devout Muslims in southern Kyrgyzstan, not least because 
the police changed their story concerning the circumstances of his death. 
Having initially claimed Kamalov was a terrorist, they subsequently claimed he 
died because IMU militants use him as a "human shield".


"Was he implicated in anything and what was the extent of his participation in 
terrorist activity?" Zakirov asked. "The public did not receive answers to 
these questions."


The National Security Service last year distributed leaflets calling on members 
of the IMU and Hizb-ut-Tahrir to surrender, and the authorities soon declared 
numerous people had come in voluntarily. 


In Uzbekistan, detained Islamist are paraded in public, declaring their guilt 
and asking for forgiveness. There are strong reasons to suspect they are 
coerced into doing so. However, none of the Islamists said to have surrendered 
in Kyrgyzstan has been shown off in this way, and the authorities' claim of 
success has been met with scepticism. 


One senior National Security Service official admitted to IWPR that few 
surrenders had taken place. He said this might be because while the Uzbek 
police initially offered pardons to militants who surrender, "later on, they 
make these people cooperate and issue public statements in the media, blaming 
their former companions". 


He added, "For them, this is equal to a death sentence, because traitors don't 
get forgiven [by Islamists]. No one has surrendered in Kyrgyzstan. I think the 
Islamists here were aware of the bitter experience of those in Uzbekistan." 




As long as poverty, corruption and ethnic tension remain rampant throughout 
Central Asia, foreign and domestic experts and analysts agree.there will always 
be some kind of constituency for men like Yoldash, 


In 2006, the Kyrgyz security service reported the existence of numerous small, 
armed, IMU cells comprising three to five members each, which it said had 
"serious plans to destabilise the situation in southern regions". 


The IMU has also vowed to continue its struggle. To mark the fifth anniversary 
of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US - Yoldash publicly threatened the 
three presidents of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with death for 
perpetuating policies "aimed at the oppression of Islam". 


Foreign experts remain concerned at the continuing threat that Islamic 
militants pose in the region.


In a report last year on global security risks, US National Intelligence 
Director John Negroponte warned that repression, political stagnation and 
corruption are characteristic of regimes in the region, and create fertile 
conditions for radical Islamic sentiment and movements to emerge. 


At the same time, Central Asian governments have a tendency to talk up the 
danger of Islamic terrorism as an excuse for political repression. This is 
especially true of Uzbekistan. 


While the Uzbek authorities blamed the IMU for explosions that rocked Tashkent 
in 1999, sentencing Yoldash to death, the militant leader has denied any 
connection with the bombings.


"If they been of our doing, we'd have owned up because the jihad against 
Karimov's regime is our cause," he said in a video message believed to date 
from January 2006. 


Accused of fomenting the 2005 anti-government riots in Andijan, he said, "We 
never hide behind women and children."


It is questionable whether the growing popularity of extremist strands of Islam 
necessarily implies a commitment to armed struggle, as the organisation with an 
extensive network on the ground in southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, not the IMU. 


Hizb-ut Tahrir's position was set out by an activist named Mansur, who has 
served two years in jail for distributing extremist material. He told IWPR 
there was a big difference between the ideologies of the IMU and Hizb-ut 
Tahrir, and support for the latter should not be confused with endorsement of 
violent regime change. 


"Our guys [Hizb-ut-Tahrir followers] and Muslims in the region generally do not 
not support him," Mansur said of Yoldash. "The only people who would are those 
from Uzbekistan who are angry with the government there." 


"Our ideas may be similar but they act in the wrong way... We respect the 
supporters of Yoldash but we do not support their methods of struggle. The use 
of arms is the prerogative of the state, but not of ordinary Muslims." 


Mansur described as slander the claims made by some officials that Hizb-ut 
Tahrir secretly supports the use of violence. "We have never wanted to, and 
never will, use weapons," he said. "Even if force is used against us, we will 
endure it patiently and leave it to the judgement of Allah. That is how our 
Prophet acted." 


Abdumomun Mamaraimov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad, southern Kyrgyzstan.


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