The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan today took credit for the Sept. 19 ambush that killed 25 Tajik troops, and also threatened to carry out further attacks in the Central Asian country. An IMU spokesman named Abdufattoh Ahmadi claimed the attack during an interview with Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service, according to a report at Reuters.
Ahmadi said the attacks are in response to the government’s closing of mosques and arresting “Muslims.”
“This is our response to Tajikistan’s government, which has lately shut down a thousand mosques, which arrests Muslims without any reason and prohibits women from wearing Muslim clothes,” Ahmadi said. “We demand a stop to this policy. Otherwise, terrorist attacks will continue.”
The Sept. 19 attack that killed the 25 Tajik soldiers took place in the Rasht Valley in Tajikistan, an area known as a haven for Islamists fighters. An IMU commander named Mullo Abdullo is believed to have been behind the deadly ambush.
Ahmadi’s threat today takes place one day after Tajik security forces killed five supporters of Mirzokhuja Ahmadov during an assault on his home. Ahmadov fought against the government during the 1992-1997 civil war and remains a member of the opposition. The Tajik government claims that Ahmadov was sheltering Abdullo.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is based in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, and primarily operates 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.
Over the past month, the US has ramped up airstrikes against the terror groups in North Waziristan, with 17 strikes this month alone. The IMU’s former leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed in a US Predator airstrike in South Waziristan 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 He has been replaced by Abu Usman Adil.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 to top Pakistani Taliban leaders. The IMU fights alongside the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In northern Afghanistan, the IMU has integrated its operations with the Taliban, and senior leaders serve as members of the Taliban’s shadow government [see LWJ report, Coalition continues pursuit of IMU commanders in the Afghan north].
Tajikistan has seen an uptick in attacks from Islamist terror groups since the summer of 2009. In late spring of that year, NATO opened a supply line from Tajikistan into northern Afghanistan after the Taliban and allied groups heavily targeted the main NATO route from Pakistan.
In the past month, Islamist fighters have carried out several major attacks. On Aug. 25, five prison guards were killed as 25 members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan serving long term sentences escaped from a Dushanbe prison. One week later, on Sept. 3, a suicide bomber attacked a police headquarters in Khujand, the second largest city in Tajikistan. Two policemen were killed and 30 more were wounded.
Within a week of the Khujand attack, Tajik border guards killed 20 Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters as they attempted to cross the border from Afghanistan. The Taliban and IMU fighters are thought to have been fleeing an ISAF and Afghan operation in Kunduz.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.