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Uzbekistan tightens security because of terror risk
With reports of terrorists massing on the border and evidence of mounting threats, the National Security Service is acting to protect Uzbek citizens, analysts say.
By Shakar Saadi and Hasan Khan
TASHKENT – Uzbekistan is boosting its security measures and warning residents of an increased risk of a terrorist attack, officials say.
Authorities have "credible information" that has prompted the precautionary efforts, especially in Tashkent, National Security Service (SNB) terrorism analyst Abror S. told Central Asia Online.
"In addition to the escalation of terrorist activity across the region and the world as a whole by groups that made a name with their previous [terrorist] acts in our country – the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU] and Salafist groups – we now have information that terrorists are grouping on the border of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan," he said though he declined to discuss specifics about the available intelligence data for security reasons. "This poses a danger to Uzbekistan."
Militants on the border
IMU and al-Qaeda militants have reportedly been massing in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan, which is closer to Tajikistan than to Uzbekistan but worrisome for the Uzbeks nonetheless.
"Yes, we have the reports about activities of al-Qaeda militants [in northern Afghanistan], … this is on both sides of the border – that is in Afghanistan and Tajikistan," Haji Din Muhammad, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council and former governor of Kabul Province, told Central Asia Online by phone from Kabul.
The Afghan government wasted no time and quickly started working with Tajikistan to eliminate the problem, Din Muhammad, a senior politician, said.
"We are tackling the issue in collaboration with our neighbour and have control of [the militants'] activities," Din Muhammad said. "They have been sandwiched, and soon the region will be made clear."
Uzbekistan considers the massing of militants a threat, too.
"We received news of terrorists massing on that border, and we worry about our territories close to the border," Abror S. said in explaining Uzbekistan's increased security efforts. "Apart from that, we have reason to believe that a terrorist act may be carried out in the capital."
Terrorism's global reach
One challenge is that extremists have broadened their communication networks, using the internet to spread their propaganda, political scientist Linura Yuldasheva told Central Asia Online.
"The internet is accessible and insufficiently regulated, has an unlimited potential readership, and allows a rapid flow of information," she said. "Groups that achieve their goals through terrorism have benefited from these inherent advantages of the internet, and this is very hard to combat."
That situation makes it easier for terrorists to collaborate across international borders, Lt. Col. Anwar Salimov of the Interior Ministry said, referencing a report by various law enforcement agencies that discusses the issue.
Another consideration is the broad effect that terrorism can have.
"In the era of globalisation, the concept of 'regional terrorism' has been replaced by 'trans-national terrorism,'… a terrorist act in one part of the world can resonate in another," Abror S. said.
Tashkent security measures
Uzbekistan is more focused on what's happening with extremists on its own territory.
Vehicles entering and leaving the capital will be checked and security has been boosted at strategically important buildings, in outdoor public areas like parks and on public transportation, Abror S. said. Officials also cancelled an April 28 Tashkent run meant to raise awareness and funds for fighting breast cancer.
The primary goal is to ensure the safety of Uzbeks, and as a result authorities will enhance security measures across the board, Salimov said.
"In a situation like this, it is not worth taking any risks," he said, adding that other cities were adopting security measures.
And Uzbek police are continuing to arrest suspects linked to extremist and terrorist organisations.
Authorities record roughly a dozen cases regarding the spread of radical literature and of the recruitment of youths by terrorist organisations like the IMU every month, Jasurbek Akhunov, a Tashkent police officer, told Central Asia Online.