Originally Published 2004-04-05 05:27:34 Published on Apr 05, 2004
The recent suicide bombings in Uzbekistan that killed more than 40 persons, mostly policemen, reveal an emerging pattern of terrorism in the region.
Uzbekistan Bombings: A pattern
The recent suicide bombings in Uzbekistan that killed more than 40 persons, mostly policemen, reveal an emerging pattern of terrorism in the region.

This is the first time that suicide bombings have occurred in a Central Asian Republic even though several militant groups are said to be active in the region. The last major attacks in Uzbekistan were in 1999 when a series of 5 car bombings had killed around 16 people.

Secondly, these attacks have occurred over a period of three days and quite evidently careful training and planning have gone into these attacks. They are the work of professional militants who are definitely not striking at the spur of the moment or simply reacting to a provocation from the security forces.

Thirdly, most of these attacks have been targeted at the police. This goes to suggest that the police in Uzbekistan are not seen as the defenders of law and order but are equated with the repressive state system under the authoritarian rule of president Islam Karimov. Uzbekistan has the worst possible record of human rights violations in the Central Asian Republics and dissent of any kind is not tolerated by the state.

The Uzbek govt. wasted no time in declaring that the attacks were the work of the Hizb-ut- Tehrir (HuT) and some Wahabi Muslims who were working under the guidance of the Al Qaeda. The Hizb-ut- Tehrir was blamed after radical Islamic literature attributed to them was seized from the house in Bukhara which was used as a hideout by the militants. The Hizb-ut- Tehrir (HuT) or "the freedom party" as it is called traces its roots to the Middle East in the 1950s. Its original members were mainly Palestinians from Jordon, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa. It moved into the Central Asian region only in the 1990s. Its headquarters keeps shifting and it has operated from Jordon and London

These attacks in Uzbekistan are hardly on unexpected lines and the shock would have been greater had Turkmenistan been the target of these attacks. Incidentally Turkmenistan has stayed away from radical Islamic terrorist activities that seem to have gripped the other Central Asian States. This can be corroborated by examining the developments related to terrorism in Central Asia since last year. Ever since "Operation Enduring Freedom" broke out in 2001, Central Asia became a region of great strategic importance primarily on account of two reasons.

Firstly, all the Central Asian states and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in particular became important American Allies in the war providing logistical support to 'Operation Enduring Freedom'. Uzbekistan alone has around 1500 US troops deployed in its southern area near the Afghan border. The role of these troops is limited to humanitarian relief and search and rescue operations inside Afghanistan but these forces also played a key role in combat attacks against the Taliban during the early phase of the campaign. Karimov wasted no time in declaring his support for the 'global war on terror' in the hope that radical Islamic groups active in Uzbekistan and especially the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan whose aim is to oust his government would suffer a set back.

Secondly these republics became the breeding ground of terrorist groups earlier active in Afghanistan and Pakistan who shifted their bases after Afghanistan was attacked. The IMU was actually set up in Afghanistan in the late 90s.It was dismantled after the US offensive on Afghanistan in which many of its members were killed including its leader Juma Namangani.

Since the Central Asian states have during the last couple of years become a hub of radical Islamic terrorist activities, these attacks were inevitable and long due. All the major terrorist groups' active in the Central Asian region have bases in Uzbekistan. They include- the Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Islamic Party of Turkistan and above all the much debated Hizb- ut- Tehrir.

The suicide bombings are indicative of the involvement of the international terrorist network of the Al Qaeda. One must take into account the fact that the IMU which had suffered a setback in the Afghanistan war had showed signs of regrouping around July last year. Intelligence reports revealed that the organization had received around $400,000 from Islamic terrorist groups including the Al Qaeda. It was said to be operating under the new name of the Islamic Party of Turkistan. The IMU was declared a foreign terrorist organization in Sept.2000 by the US Department of State. All this goes to prove that an IMU hand in these blasts in Uzbekistan with the possible support from the Al Qaeda cannot be ruled out.

The Hizb-ut- Tehrir whose clandestine activities have been going around for quite some time now made its presence felt all of last year. The HuT has a strong base in the Farghana valley, shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Though this organization has for long claimed that it is a political and a cultural organization and does not believe in violence, it has trained and interned 100,000 Muslims in Uzbekistan alone. It lends ideological support to the Al Qaeda and the IMU. Though fact remains that none of the HuT members arrested so far in any country have been directly involved in any act of violence, it has spread anti US propaganda and other forms of extremist Islamic literature calling for a pan Islamic Jihad and the return of the Caliphate. "Alliance with America is a capital crime against Islam", read a Hizb-ut- Tehrir leaflet found in Sept.2001. The only proof of the HuT's possible involvement in any kind of direct terrorist activity was, when in June 2003, Russia arrested 55 HuT members with 500 grams of plastic explosives, hand grenades and objectionable literature. Those arrested included Kyrgyz and Tajik nationals. The HuT's role in Central Asia and its possible networks in Pakistan, the Middle East and Indonesia needs to be studied in greater detail before any conclusion regarding their possible involvement in these recent terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan can be drawn.

These attacks in Uzbekistan should be a concern to the Indian state as well. There is ample proof that the Pakistan based erstwhile Harqat- ul- Ansar, based at Rawalpindi and sponsored by the government of POK and the ISI had contacts with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its breakaway faction, the Jaish-e-Mohammad Mujhaeddin E-Tanzeem led by Maulana Masood Azhar, one of India's most wanted terrorists, is also suspected of possible contacts with the Central Asian states. Masood Azhar who was one of the militants released in January 2000 during the IC 814 hijacking trade off has been mobilizing muslims in several countries including Central Asia for a jehad in Kashmir. The JKLF, now largely defunct and working through the Kul Jamaat Hurriyat Conference also has offices in four Central Asian states including Uzbekistan.

Finally it is an irony that all the states that have been the breeding ground of terrorist activities, like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Yemen are the biggest allies of the US in the 'global war on terror'. In a series of terrorist attacks on the allies in the Iraq war, the last major one being the train bombings in Madrid which killed more than 200 people on March 11, Central Asia and more specifically Uzbekistan was a missing link. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Spain, Morocco have all been targeted by Islamic terrorists. Uzbekistan has completed the chain.

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] )

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