Originally Published 2004-01-27 09:35:42 Published on Jan 27, 2004
While the year 2003 saw many acts of terrorism in South, South-East and West Asia, as well as in Chechnya in Russia, very few major acts of terrorism were reported from Central Asia. In fact, ever since the US-led coalition went into action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have remained largely free of major acts of terrorism
2003 : Jihadi Terrorism in Central Asia
While the year 2003 saw many acts of terrorism in South, South-East and West Asia, as well as in Chechnya in Russia, very few major acts of terrorism were reported from Central Asia. In fact, ever since the US-led coalition went into action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have remained largely free of major acts of terrorism, possibly due to the disruption of the rear bases of the various terrorist groups of the region in Afghan territory. This proves that without the availability of sanctuaries in foreign territory, many terrorist groups, particularly those with a trans-national agenda, would find it difficult to keep their activities sustained.

Despite this, the CARs remain a major area of concern because the various terrorist organisations of this region, which were lying low like the Taliban of Afghanistan, have been utilising the pause in their terrorist activities for re-grouping and revamping their capabilities and one could not, therefore, rule out a resurgence in their activities similar to the revival of the activities of the Taliban as they recover from the reverses suffered by them post-9/11.

India has reasons to be particularly concerned over the increase in the activities of the pan-Islamic Hizbul-e-Tehrir in Pakistani territory.

Amongst the terrorist organisations, which have a presence in this region and whose activities continue to need a close watch are:

  • Al Qaeda - active mainly in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The Hizbul-e-Tehrir (HET)- active mainly in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)- operating in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
  • The East Turkistan Islamic Movement - in Uzbekistan Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
  • The Islamic Party of Turkistan - in Uzbekistan mainly.

Of these organisations, the HET attracted the most attention during the year. Like Al Qaeda, it is a trans-national terrorist organisation and not an indigenous one and advocates the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. It has a presence in many countries of not only Asia, but also Europe. During the year, its activities were banned and its members detained by many countries.

The HET,or "the freedom party" as it is called, traces its roots to the Middle East of the 1950s. Its original members were mainly Palestinians from Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa. It extended its presence to the Central Asian region only in the 1990s. Its headquarters keep shifting and have operated from Jordan and London.

It has a strong base in the Farghana valley which is Central Asia's most fertile region shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The discovery of an underground printing press of the HET in the Soghad province of Tajikistan on January 30, 2003, brought to light its base in Tajikistan. A desk top computer, printing equipment and several printed books, leaflets and pamphlets were seized from there. It is believed to have trained many Muslims in Uzbekistan and lends support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In April, the authorities of the Khujand administrative centre of the Soghd region in northern Tajikistan arrested an HET member with leaflets with anti-constitutional contents.

In November,2003, the Kyrgyz Supreme Court banned four terrorist organisations linked Al Qaeda, which included the Organisation for the Liberation of Turkestan, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Islamic Party of Turkistan and the HET. Two members of the HET were arrested in December at Dushanbe and extremist literature in the form of leaflets was confiscated from them.

Among its activities outside the region in other parts of Asia, one could mention the rally organised by it in Saudi Arabia in February against the presence of foreign troops there and the conference organised by it in November at Sanaa in Yemen on the restoration of an Islamic caliphate.

Among its activities in Europe, one should note the signature drive launched by it on a petition against the war in Iraq in many mosques of the UK in January,2003. The same month, it was banned in Germany because of its anti- Semitic activities.

In February, Russia banned the HET along with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), both of Pakistan. In June , the Russian authorities were reported to have arrested 55 members of the HET with 500 grams of plastic explosives, hand grenades and objectionable literature. Those arrested included Kyrgyz and Tajik nationals.

In March, Fadi Abdullatif, described as a spokesman of the HET, was convicted by a court in Denmark on a charge of breaking the local anti-racism laws. He had allegedly called upon the Muslims to kill the Jews. The HET has allegedly been agitating in Germany and Denmark for the Shariah laws and the extermination of the Jews.

What should be of great concern to India are the indicators of an increase in the activities of the HET in Pakistani territory , which could ultimately pose a threat to India's national security. In August, Naved Butt of the Pakistani branch of the HET was picked up by the local police from a Lahore hotel for making a speech against General Pervez Musharraf, who had apparently said earlier that a caliphate would be unworkable in the present age. Butt, in his inflammatory speech, allegedly called for the assassination of Musharraf for insulting the cause of Islam.

Again at Lahore, the HET Chief, Ata Abu Rushda, was detained in November for his statement that the Muslims should fight for the establishment of a caliphate. He was reported to have stated: "In Kashmir, Chechnya, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world, Muslims were going through a painful period. It could end if they could establish their own caliphate which could protect their rights". Following these developments, the Pakistan Government banned the HET in November as part of a crackdown on jihadi terrorist groups. The HET also staged a protest demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club against the Government of Pakistan for allegedly supporting the US against Iraq.

Following the two abortive attempts to assassinate Musharraf in December, a member of the Senate, the upper House of the Pakistan Parliament, revealed that some members of the Parliament had been in receipt of letters from the UK branch of the HET, warning them against voting in the Parliament in support of the regularisation of the election of Musharraf as the President in the widely-criticised referendum of 2002. However, there is so far no indication of the likely involvement of the HET in the two attempts to kill Musharraf.

The Pakistani authorities also arrested five persons who were trying to collect donations in the name of banned jihadi terrorist organisations such as the Jamait-ul- Ansar, the HET, the Jamait- ul- Furqan etc in Southern Punjab.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) , which was lying low after the US offensive in Afghanistan in which many of its members and its leader Namangani were reportedly killed, showed signs of regrouping around July last year. There were reports alleging that it had received around US $ 400,000 from Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist groups. It was reported that the IMU was also operating under the new name of the Islamic Party of Turkistan. It was said to be behind the bombings in Bishkek and Osh in July .

While the IMU draws its supporters and members largely from among the impoverished farmers living in the Farghana valley in Uzbekistan, the HET has in its ranks a large number of urban intelligentsia and educated youth who are unemployed.

Regional co-operation against terrorism continued to receive attention during the year. The authorities of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) , which includes all the Central Asian countries, met in early December in the margins of the 11th meeting of the Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council at Maastricht. Combating international terrorism, the illicit traffic in narcotics , arms, ammunition and explosives, illegal migration and traffic in persons which sustain the terrorist groups in the region were identified as areas that needed cooperation among the member-states. The meeting especially addressed the issue of the narcotics trade and the influx of illegal migrants into the region from the Middle East and other parts of Asia after the Afghan war, which have added to the terrorism-related security problems of the region. Several of these migrants without a legal status become mercenaries of terrorist groups.

Counter- terrorism has also been the focus of the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) which has Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as its members along with Russia, Armenia and Belarus. Promoting inter-state military cooperation and political integration have been high on its agenda to combat security threats in the region. It established a rapid- reaction force in May that would be based in Kyrghizia and would deal with terrorism and organised crime in the region.

Interestingly, Turkmenistan, which has a much larger Muslim population (89 per cent of the local population) than Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, has remained unaffected so far by the jihadi terrorist nexus in the region. To what extent is this due to the extremely repressive methods of the local Government and to what extent to other factors such as suppression of the dissemination of news about the activities of such elements in its territory is not clear. (18-1-04)

(The writer is a post-graduate of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and, presently, a member of the staff of the International Terrorism Watch Project of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). She is based in New Delhi. E-mail address: [email protected] )

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.

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