A suicide bomber killed 20 Afghan civilians, including a member of parliament, in an attack today at a funeral in the northern province of Takhar. The attack was likely carried out by the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
“There was a suicide attack against a funeral ceremony in Sarhi-e-Sang area of provincial capital Taluqan city at around 2:30 p.m. local time Sunday (1000 GMT) and I do confirm that member of Lower House of parliament Abdul Mutalib Baig was among those killed in the incident,” a provincial spokesman told Xinhua.
Baig served as a police chief for Takhar and neighboring Kunduz province prior to being elected to parliament, TOLONews reported.
Baig is the third senior Afghan official assassinated in Takhar in 14 months. In May, a suicide bomber assassinated General Daud, the top police commander in the north, as he was meeting with ISAF’s commander for the north. The ISAF general was wounded in the attack.
In October 2010, a suicide bomber killed Governor Muhammad Omar as he worshiped in a mosque in neighboring Takhar province. Omar had been vocal in his opposition to the Taliban, and had consistently warned of the spread of the Taliban and allied terror groups in the Afghan north.
Also, in March, a suicide bomber killed General Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, the provincial chief of police for Kunduz in Kunduz city. Like Daud and Omar, Sayedkhill was a staunch opponent of the Taliban.
No group has claimed credit for today’s attack, but it was likely carried out by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al Qaeda affiliate that has integrated its leadership with the Taliban in the Afghan north. The IMU has claimed credit for several suicide attacks in the north, including the recent assault on a US Provincial Reconstruction Team in the peaceful province of Panjshir. At the end of November, the IMU claimed that 87 of its members were killed during operations in Afghanistan; many of those killed died in suicide attacks. The IMU commanders and fighters listed as “martyred” were from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Germany, and Russia.
Background on the IMU in Pakistan and Afghanistan
The IMU’s leadership cadre is based in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, and operates primarily along the Afghan-Pakistani border and in northern Afghanistan. According to one estimate, more than 3,000 Uzbeks and other Central Asian fighters are sheltering in North Waziristan.
The US ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan between September 2010 and January 2011. Many of the strikes targeted cells run by the Islamic Jihad Group, which were plotting to conduct Mumbai-styled terror assaults in Europe. A strike on Sept. 8, 2010 killed an IJG commander known as Qureshi, who specialized in training Germans to conduct attacks in their home country.
In South Waziristan, the IMU’s former leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed in a US Predator airstrike in September 2009. Yuldashev sat on al Qaeda’s top council, the Shura Majlis. He has been replaced by Abu Usman Adil.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters often serve as bodyguards for top Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has stepped up attacks in Central Asian countries as well. Recently, the IUM has claimed credit for suicide assaults in Panjshir and Parwan provinces in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, ISAF identified several locations of safe havens and training camps in the north for the Taliban and the allied Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Both terror groups maintain a strong presence in the northern Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-i-Pul, and Takhar, and have established suicide and military training camps in the north over the past several years. As the two groups expand their presence in the region, top leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have integrated into the Taliban’s shadow government in the northern provinces.
ISAF has identified the presence of suicide camps in Sar-i-Pul and Samangan provinces. On March 22, a special operations team captured an IMU commander who ran camps in Samangan. In addition, several other commanders who aid in suicide attacks have been targeted in the north.
ISAF and Afghan forces captured the IMU’s senior leader in Afghanistan during a raid in Kunduz province in April. He served as “a key conduit between the senior IMU leadership in Pakistan and senior Taliban leadership in Afghanistan,” and aided in suicide, IED, and other attacks by the IMU in the north. He was freed from a Pakistani jail in 2010 and immediately returned to lead forces in Afghanistan [see LWJ report, ISAF captures Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s top commander for Afghanistan].
The IMU has established camps in Kunduz province, a Taliban commander from Baghlan named Mustafa told the Asia Times earlier this year. The Taliban commander said that jihadis from Central Asia, including “Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Russia,” make up a significant portion of the fighters in the Afghan north and that they are setting their sights on the neighboring country of Uzbekistan.
“I can tell you that there is an active connection between the Central Asian command and the Taliban in northern Afghanistan and they often join us, but how they connect, this is beyond my level,” Mustafa told Asia Times. “Our superior commanders are in touch with their counterparts in Central Asia and if somebody arrives in Afghanistan or goes to Central Asia from Afghanistan, it is arranged at a senior leadership level.”
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Group, an IMU splinter faction, are also known to operate in the southeastern Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, and Zabul. The two groups work with the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network [see LWJ report, ISAF detains senior Haqqani Network leader linked to the IMU].