Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters in Afghanistan
A new faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) independent of the Islamic State has emerged and indicated that it remains loyal to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other traditional jihadist group that operate in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
The new faction announced its existence on June 10 in English and Arabic language statements released on Twitter and Telegram. In its first statement, the group – which continues to call itself the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – said the IMU split apart after its last emir, Usman Ghazi, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.
“Dear mumin [believers] and Muslim brothers! We found it to be necessary to make a statement about the latest events in our jamaah [group],” the statement reads before giving a brief explanation of the group’s leadership history and loyalties. The group notes that the IMU’s first three leaders, Juma Namangani, Tahir Yuldashev, and Abu Usman Adil each gave an an oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s first leader, Mullah Omar. It also said that its last emir, Usman Ghazi, also originally pledged to Mullah Omar.
However, just weeks before the Taliban admitted that it had hid Mullah Omar’s death for over two years, Ghazi had released a statement questioning the status of the Taliban leader and praising the Islamic State. Ghazi likely viewed the Taliban’s admission as confirmation that he was right to be skeptical all along, and on Aug. 6, 2015, the IMU officially pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and merged with its fledgling Khorasan province. [See LWJ report, Central Asian groups split over leadership of global jihad.]
Ghazi’s split with his traditional allies proved destructive to his following. Shortly after siding with the Islamic State, Ghazi’s followers joined with Islamic State fighters in Zabul province, Afghanistan, battled the Taliban, and were defeated. Many of Ghazi’s followers were killed. Ghazi’s fate is unknown; he has been rumored to have been killed or captured during the fighting. Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the emir of the Turkistan Islamic Party, said that the IMU “disappeared” after it pursued “the path of war” with the Taliban. [See LWJ report, Turkistan Islamic Party leader criticizes the Islamic State’s ‘illegitimate’ caliphate.]
Despite Ghazi’s break with the IMU’s traditional allies, including the Taliban and al Qaeda, a core cadre from the IMU continued to fight as a group.
The new IMU faction also supported al Qaeda and the Taliban’s criticism of the Islamic State and its emir and caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. In a rebuke of the Islamic State, the IMU noted that several al Qaeda and other Salafi ideologues – such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada, as well as the former emir of the Caucasus Emirate – believe Abu Bakr al Baghdadi “is not a caliph of Muslims but only an Emir of the ‘Islamic State’ group.”
Previously, the core cadre of IMU fighters who sided with the Taliban and al Qaeda continued to fight in Afghanistan, but their differences were stifled because the pro-Islamic State faction controlled the IMU’s official media outlets.
“[W]e would like to mention that the delay to our announcement to public, that activities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan did not [stop]. Although not in a quantity as before, it still continued its work. The reason for that, the members were dispersed in many faraway fields and that Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s official media outlets were not in the hands of its members and other difficulties and we apologize for that,” according to the statement.
The IMU concluded by exclaiming that the anti-Islamic State IMU faction will continue business as usual and that it “will continue its Islamic activities with the grace of Allah against the enemies of religion and stand shoulder to shoulder with [believers] and Muslim brothers of Afghanistan,” which is a clear reference to the Taliban.
To separate itself from the pro-Islamic State faction, the new IMU also clearly states its openness in continuing to work with the other jihadist groups in Afghanistan and that it would like to “converge with them.”
The IMU faction did not name a new emir. This may be due to operational security reasons. As the statement notes, the previous two emirs, Yuldashev and Adil were “attacked treacherously by unmanned drone of crusader enemies” and killed.