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By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – With both the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and North Caucasus (NC) militant groups suffering from devastating manpower losses, some Uzbek analysts and security officers project the two extremist groups will pair up.
Analysts at the Uzbek National Security Service (NSS) are aware of the IMU and NC terrorists co-operating. In particular, the NSS has confirmed that the IMU has been working with terrorist groups led by Chechen separatist Doku Umarov, said Abduvali Tashirov, a researcher in the NSS’s Analysis Department.
“This is also confirmed by reports that the Caucasus fighters, usually called Chechens, are fighting beside IMU units deployed in Afghanistan,” he said. “In particular, two (militants) killed in Waziristan in the summer of 2010, one from Dagestan, the other a citizen of Azerbaijan, were proved to be IMU members.”
“In recent years, the IMU has been renewed and reinforced by militants from the Caucasus,” said Yelena Fadeyeva, an Asian affairs specialist who studies militants, adding that small groups of NC militants are based throughout Central Asia, though most are in Afghanistan.
“Even generally peaceful Kazakhstan is used by the militants as a transfer base, and the place where they feel most confident is unstable Kyrgyzstan,” she said.
Groups share common ground
It wasn’t hard for the NC separatists to find common ground with the IMU, Fadeyeva said.
“This is possible because many Ingush, Chechens and members of other Caucasus ethnicities were born and lived in Central Asia and are personally acquainted with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan,” she added.
That theory is supported by history. In 1944, Soviet authorities deported about 500,000 residents of the NC, including Chechens, Ingush, Circassians, Balkarians and Azeris, to Central Asia, citing fears of wartime disloyalty.
The exiled populations lived there until 1989, when they began returning to their ancestral homelands as the Soviet regime collapsed.
The NSS suspects the NC terrorists and IMU members share the idea of forming a caliphate, Tashirov said. The Islamists headed by Umarov want to set up a Caucasus emirate, which would free itself of “Russian domination” and would enforce its idea of Islam, while the IMU wants a caliphate presiding over Central Asia.
In October, a separatist website published a video showing an appeal by terrorists from the Pakistani Khorasan (a Caucasus militant group that relocated to Pakistan), addressed to “our brother Moslems in the Caucasus” and calling for the establishment of a “global caliphate” and a jihad.
The video also says, “We pray for you, and we want to unite with you to wage a jihad in the Caucasus.”
NC, IMU militants forged ties in 1990s
Co-operation between NC and IMU terrorists began in the 1990s, when IMU recruits underwent training in al-Qaeda camps in Khost Province, Afghanistan, and in Chechnya. As members of terrorist groups, they fought Russian government troops, Solikh B., an NSS analyst of NC terrorism, explained.
In the spring of 1995, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan heard a criminal case involving 21 defendants. They confirmed they belonged to illegal terrorist groups operating in Chechnya.
“The purposeful penetration of one terrorist group by members of another is taking place, with the aim of effective future co-operation in a jihad for the establishment of an expanded caliphate,” Fadeyeva said, drawing attention to the complex geopolitical situation that is taking shape.
“The IMU’s ideas are being propagated by activists of this organisation not only in the countries of Central Asia, but also in Russia, where terrorist cells are being formed among the guest workers and immigrants,” Tashirov added. “The Uyghur separatists have joined in the idea of establishing a caliphate, proclaiming the (Xinjiang) Uyghur Autonomous Region of China to be part of the caliphate.”
“In this case, the Islamic term jihad is equal to the generally accepted meaning of the word ‘terrorism,’” Solikh B. explained. “Thus, ‘global jihad’ describes the latest trends in the activities of the Islamic extremists.”
The change in IMU and Caucasus-separatist strategy stems from long years of failure in trying to overthrow the Uzbek and other governments, Tashirov said.
Accordingly, “the coming to power of Islamists in the Middle Eastern countries brings hope to ‘our’ terrorists,” he said.
The advance of telecoms technology also has played a great role in this fusion by enabling Islamic extremists from various parts of the world to strengthen ties, Tashirov said.