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Suspected Death Of Yuldashev: Good News For Uzbekistan, China, Germany

In its relentless strikes with drones (pilotless planes) on suspected terrorist hide-outs in Pakistan’s tribal belt, the US intelligence has been scoring two kinds of successes. The first is the kind of success where the US intelligence knows immediately after a strike whom it has targeted and killed. A good example was the drone strike on the house of the father-in-law of Baitullah Mehsud , the then Amir of the Pakistani Taliban known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in South Waziristan on August 5,2009. Immediately after the strike, the US intelligence knew and said with an 80 per cent certainty that it had killed Baitullah. The TTP initially denied the US claim, but subsequently had to admit his death.

2. The second is the kind of success of which the US intelligence becomes aware long after a strike. It attacks a place knowing it to be a terrorist hide-out without being aware of the identity of the inmates. After the strike, it realises through source information that one of the persons killed by it was someone important and becomes aware of his identity.

3. The reported death of Tohir Yuldashev, the Amir of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), would come in this category. On August 27,2009, there was a drone strike on a suspected terrorist hide-out at Kanigoram in South Waziristan. At that time, the US intelligence was not aware as to whom it had killed. Much later, on September 29,2009, a man claiming to be Yuldashev’s bodyguard reportedly phoned Radio Liberty in Prague to claim that Yuldashev was among those killed in this attack.This has subsequently been corroborated by tribal and Pakistani official sources cited in the Pakistani media, but not yet confirmed by the US intelligence. That is why I have called it a suspected death.

4. If ultimately confirmed, the death of Yuldashev would be the second instance in which drones have killed the Amirs (heads) of two dreaded terrorist organisations. US drones have killed many middle and even senior level leaders of Al Qaeda and other organisations, but not heads of organisations till their two successes in August—-the confirmed death of Baitullah on August 5 and the reported, but not yet confirmed death of Yuldashev on August 27.

5.The reported elimination of Yuldashev would be greeted with relief not only by the counter-terrorism agencies of Uzbekistan and China, but also by the agencies of the West European countries faced with threats arising from members of their Muslim diaspora trained by the IMU and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), another Uzbek organisation, in their training camps in North Waziristan. Germany, which was recently threatened repeatedly by Al Qaeda and some of its affiliates, would have particular reason to be happy since some of the Germans of Turkish or Moroccan origin , who pose a threat to German security, had been trained in the camps of the two Uzbek organisations in North Waziristan.

6.The first signs of Islamic fundamentalism appeared in Uzbekistan in December 1991, when some unemployed Muslim youth seized the Communist Party headquarters in the eastern city of Namangan, to protest against the refusal of the local Mayor to permit the construction of a mosque. The protest was organised by Tohir Abdouhalilovitch Yuldashev, a 24-year-old college drop-out, who had become a Mulla, and Jumaboi Ahmadzhanovitch Khojaev, a former Soviet paratrooper who had served in Afghanistan and returned from there totally converted to Wahabism.

7. Yuldashev and Khojaev, who later adopted the alias Juma Namangani, after his hometown, became members of the Uzbekistan branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). Following the IRP’s refusal to support their demand for the establishment of an Islamic State in Uzbekistan, they formed their own party called the Adolat (Justice) Party, which was banned by President Islam Karimov. They then fled to Tajikistan. While Namangani fought in the local civil war, Yuldashev went to Chechnya to participate in the jihad there. In 1995, he went to Pakistan, where the jihadi organisations gave him shelter in Peshawar. From there, he re-named the Adolat Party as the IMU and was allegedly in receipt of funds from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. After Osama bin Laden shifted to Jalalabad from Khartoum in Sudan in 1996, Yuldashev crossed over into Afghanistan.

8. After the end of the civil war in Tajikistan, Namangani settled down for a while as a road transport operator. He was also allegedly involved in heroin smuggling from Afghanistan. Subsequently, he too crossed over into Afghanistan and joined the IMU and became its leader. The IMU allegedly earns a major part of its revenue from heroin smuggling.

9. After the Taliban captured Kabul in September, 1996, Namangani and Yuldashev held a press conference at Kabul at which they announced the formation of the IMU with Namangani as the Amir and Yuldashev as its military commander. In 1998, the IMU joined the International Islamic Front (IIF) of Al Qaeda. bin Laden was reportedly greatly interested in the IMU because he was hoping to use it for getting nuclear material and know-how from Russia and other constituent States of the erstwhile USSR.

10. The IMU’s initial goal was described as the overthrow of Uzbek President Islam Karimov and the establishment of an Islamic State in Uzbekistan. It changed its name to the Islamic Party of Turkestan (IPT) in June 2001, and called for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia consisting of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and China’s Xinjiang province. It has been recruiting members from all these areas, including Uighurs from Xinjiang. Initially, its recruits were trained by the Arab instructors of Al Qaeda in the training camps in Afghan territory and after 9/11 by Chechen and Pashtun instructors of the Taliban in the South Waziristan area of Pakistan. Despite its 2001 change of name as IPT, it continues to be known in Uzbekistan as the IMU. The name IPT is not widely known.

11. After the reported death of Namangani in a US air strike in Afghanistan post-9/11, Yuldashev took over the leadership of the IMU as its Amir and crossed over with the surviving members of the IMU into South Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, where he and his Uzbek/Chechen instructors set up a training camp for training jihadi terrorists. In an operation launched by the Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan in March-April, 2004, to smoke out the remnants of Al Qaeda, Yuldashev was reported to have been injured, but he managed to escape.

12.Till March, 2007, Mir Ali in North Waziristan used to be the headquarters of the Islamic Jihad Group, also known as the Islamic Jihad Union. It ran a number of training camps there where jihadis from many Western countries, including Germany, China’s Xinjiang, and Pakistan itself were trained by Uzbek and Chechen instructors. The IMU’s headquarters used to be in the Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan. This area became the scene of violent attacks by sections of the local tribals on the Uzbeks living in the area following the alleged murder of a local tribal personality by an Uzbek resident of the area in the third week of March, 2007. In the ensuing clashes, nearly 100 persons were killed—-about 70 Uzbeks and the remaining locals mainly belonging to the Darikhel and the Tojikhel sub-tribes of the Pashtuns. The Yargulkhel sub-tribe led by Noor Islam and his brother Haji Omar, two important pro-Taliban military commanders who had once fought in Afghanistan, supported the Uzbeks in their fight against the Darikhels and the Tojkhels. Some Yargulkhels were also killed. Ultimately, the IMU was forced to evacuate South Waziristan and shift to Mir Ali.

13.Following this, I had reported as follows in my article titled “Mir Ali In North Waziristan- : Under Uzbek Control “, which is available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers24/paper2317.html : Quote According to well-informed sources in the Police of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is under the effective control of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) headed by Qari Tohir Yuldashev. Small groups of Chechens and Uighurs are also present in the area. They work under the over-all command of Qari Tohir. They were being helped by Maulana Sadiq Noor, a local tribal leader close to the Neo Taliban. The IMU, with the help of Chechen instructors, has set up training camps in the area for training the recruits of the Neo Taliban, the jihadi terrorist organisations of Pakistan and individual jihadis from abroad-particularly from the Pakistani diaspora abroad.”

14.After the Pakistani commando raid in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad between July 10 and `13, 2007, the Mehsuds of Baitullah joined hands with the IMU and the Islamic Jihad Group and they started instigating suicide terrorist attacks not only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), but also outside the tribal belt—even in places like Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Coinciding with the commando raid, the Government of Pervez Musharraf sent reinforcements of security forces to North Waziristan. This was interpreted by sections of the local tribals as a violation of the peace agreement signed with them by the Pakistan Army in September, 2006, and as a prelude to attacks on the headquarters of the IMU and the Islamic Jihad Group. They kidnapped nearly 300 members of the para-military forces and threatened to kill them at the rate of three a day if their followers in Government custody were not released and the reinforcements were not withdrawn.

15. Following the arrest in Germany in September,2007, of three German Muslims trained in the camps of the Islamic Jihad Group in the Mir Ali area, who were allegedly planning to attack a US military base in Germany, the Musharraf Government came under increased pressure from the US to act against pro-Al Qaeda jihadis in the Mir Ali area. There was similar pressure from the Chinese, who were concerned over the attacks on Chinese nationals working in Pakistan after the Lal Masjid raid. Even apart from these pressures, the worsening security situation in the tribal belt forced the Pakistani Security Forces to act against the Uzbeks, Chechens and Uighurs and their local tribal supporters. Reports from the NATO forces in Afghanistan of the presence of increasing numbers of Uzbeks, Chechens and Uighurs with the Neo Taliban forces operating in Afghan territory added to the pressure for action. Responding to these pressures, the Pakistani Government started sending further reinforcements to the area. It was a jihadi attack on one of the convoys carrying these reinforcements which triggered off a new round of deadly clashes.

16.About 200 members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) , the Islamic Jihad Group and the Pashtun tribal group led by Baitullah Mehsud and about a hundred members of the Pakistani Security Forces—mostly para-military personnel— were killed in violent clashes between pro-Al Qaeda jihadis and the security forces in and around the Mir Ali area from October 6, 2007. The clashes started after the terrorists ambushed a convoy of the security forces in North Waziristan, inflicting an undisclosed number of fatalities and capturing some Pakistani personnel of the security forces.

17. The dead bodies of the some of the security forces personnel were later found abandoned with their throats slit. A Jirga of leading North Waziristan clerics led by former Member of the National Assembly from North Waziristan, Maulana Nek Zaman Haqqani, after daylong negotiations, received 30 bodies of the slain soldiers from the jihadis in Khaisur and handed them over to military officials in Mir Ali. The “News”, a well-informed daily newspaper, quoted an unidentified jirga member as claiming on October 8, 2007, that the jirga members had recovered 73 bodies of soldiers, majority of which were burnt or badly mutilated, from the Mir Ali villages that they had visited. Malik Sher Khan, a local tribal elder, said 45 bodies of soldiers had been handed over to military officials in Mir Ali. Quoting a local Government official, the “News” reported as follows: “Very few of the over 200 soldiers besieged by militants on Sunday (October 7) seem to have survived after the deadliest ever attack on them.” Following the discovery of over a dozen mutilated dead bodies, either beheaded or with their throats slit, of para-military personnel captured earlier by the men of Baitullah Mehsud, the para-military forces ran amok. Some surrendered to the terrorists, others discarded their uniforms and took shelter in the homes of the residents of the area and some others went on a killing spree, indiscriminately killing the local villagers and the Uzbeks, Chechens and Uighurs..

18.The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) or the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), came into being in Pakistani territory post 9/11 as a result of a split in the IMU following the US military strikes in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It describes Osama bin Laden, Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Neo Taliban, and Maulana Samiul Haq, the Amir of a faction of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam Pakistan, as its mentors. It focusses on training volunteers from the Western countries as well as from Uzbekistan.

19. It came to notice for the first time in April 2004 when it claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings around Tashkent and Bukharo in Uzbekistan which killed 47 people. The attacks targeted local government offices, as well as a crowded market. On July 30, 2004, it carried out simultaneous bombing attacks on the US Embassy, the Israeli Embassy, and the office of the Uzbek Prosecutor General, killing at least two people and wounding many others.

20. A statement purported to have been disseminated by it said: “A group of young Muslims executed martyrdom operations that put fear in the apostate government and its infidel allies, the Americans and Jews. The mujahidin belonging to Islamic Jihad Group attacked both the American and Israeli embassies as well as the court building where the trials of a large number of the brothers from the Group had begun. These martyrdom operations that the group is executing will not stop, God willing. It is for the purpose of repelling the injustice of the apostate government and supporting the jihad of our Muslim brothers in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Hijaz, and in other Muslim countries ruled by infidels and apostates.”

21. On May 26, 2005, the US State Department issued the following statement: “The Department of State on May 25 announced the designation of the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organisation under Executive Order 13224. This designation blocks all property, and interests in property, of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U. S. persons. The Secretary of State took this action in consultation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Department of Homeland Security. The Islamic Jihad Group, active in Central Asia, broke away from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization that is listed by the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee. On July 30, 2004, the Islamic Jihad Group conducted coordinated bombing attacks in Tashkent against the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, and the office of the Uzbek Prosecutor General, killing at least two people and wounding nine. The Islamic Jihad Group claimed responsibility for these attacks and indicated that future attacks are planned. The Islamic Jihad Group continues to target Americans and U.S. facilities overseas and is a dangerous threat to U.S. interests. After an explosion at a safehouse in Bukharo, Uzbekistan, IJG suicide bombers attacked a popular bazaar and other locations in Tashkent in March and April 2004, resulting in the deaths of more than a dozen police officers and innocent bystanders and dozens of injuries. The attackers in the March and April 2004 attacks, some of whom were female suicide bombers, targeted the local government offices of the Uzbekistani and Bukharo police, killing approximately 47 people, including 33 terrorists. These attacks marked the first use of female suicide bombers in Central Asia. Those arrested in connection with the attacks in Bukharo have testified to the close ties between the IJG leaders and Usama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Kazakhstani authorities have declared that IJG members were taught by al-Qaida instructors to handle explosives and to organize intelligence work and subversive activities. Kazakhstan has arrested several IJG members and put them on trial.”

22 In October, 2005, the British Government declared it as a terrorist organisation despite strong opposition from human rights groups, which alleged that the Uzbek Government was projecting political dissidents opposed to it as pro-Al Qaeda terrorists.

23.The IJG, which was formed in 2002 to oppose the co-operation extended by the Government of Islam Karimov to the US in its operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, projects the US and Israel as the main enemies of Islam and all Muslim countries co-operating with the US as apostates, which need to be opposed. The IJG, which also has the over-all objective of a global Islamic Caliphate, projects itself as a global jihadi organisation and not a basically Uzbek organisation. It says that since Islam does not recognise nationalities or ethnicities, any Muslim can become its member irrespective of where he or she lives. Since it describes the US and Israel as its principal enemies, it welcomes volunteers from countries where the US and Israel have a large presence.

24. In an interview on May 31, 2007, Ebu Yahya Muhammed Fatih, who describes himself as the Commander of the Islamic Jihad Union, stated as follows:

“After the fall of the Afganistan Islamic Administration,we who shared the same opinions came together and decided to organize groups which will conduct jihad operations against the infidel constitution of cruel Karimov in Uzbekistan. The sole aim of all the emigrant-mujahedeen brothers was to find war-like solutions against the infidel constitution of cruel Karimov. For this aim our Union was established in 2002.

“Our Union’s aim is, under the flag of justice and Islam Dominancy, to save our Müslim brothers who have been suffering from the cruelty of pre-Soviet period and Uzbekistan, and to take them out of the swamp of cruelty and infidelity, as well as to help other Müslim brothers all around the world as per God and his Prophet’s orders.

“Members of our Union are not members of a specific tribe or a nation. As there is no nationalism and tribalism in Islam, our Union is formed of the believers from all over the world and multi-national emigrants travelling to praise the religion.

“Today we proceed according to our targeted goals with all our means. Muslim youth in the republics of former Soviet Union who found the path of Allah and are ready to fight for their religion have been trained in various fields in the training facilities of the Union. One of the armed forces of the Union is active in Afghanistan. Besides, we have been in contact and also been working on our common targets together with Caucasian mujahedeens. We have also been working together on plans and aims against the infidel regime of Uzbekistan which is one of our major targets.”

25. In April, 2007, the US Embassy in Berlin announced that it was strengthening security at US facilities in Germany in response to what it described as an increased threat of terrorism. Mr. August Hanning, a former head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency known as the Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND), who was the then Deputy Interior Minister, said in an interview that 14 German Islamists had gone to Pakistan for training. He also said that in recent months the Pakistani authorities had detained at least seven German Islamists “who could have been involved in planning attacks”.

26. On September 5, 2007, German Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms announced the arrest of three persons and the recovery from them of 700 kilos of chemicals capable of being converted into explosives. German media reports said that they were planning attacks against a US military base in Ramstein and the Frankfurt airport. Two of the arrested persons were described as white converts to Islam, both German nationals, and the third as of Turkish origin. The Federal Prosecutor named the three persons aged 22,28 and 29 as belonging to the German cell of the Islamic Jihad Union. It was reported that seven more members of the cell were still at large.

27.There is another Yuldashev in the jihadi world of Uzbekistan —- by the first name Akram.In 1992, Akram Yuldashev,then a 29-year-old maths teacher of Andijan, published a pamphlet titled “Yimonga Yul” (Path to faith) on what he projected as the superiority of Islamic moral values. This brought him many supporters and his pamphlet was widely read. In 1998, the authorities arrested him on a charge of possessing narcotics and he was jailed for 30 months. However, he was prematurely released in December 1998.At the time of his arrest, he was working in a furniture company. He was again arrested in February 1999 following explosions in Tashkent, accused of participating in acts of terrorism and sentenced to 17 years in jail. The charge-sheet filed against him described him as the head of a jihadi organisation called Akramia, named after him, whose objective, it was alleged, was to convert Uzbekistan into an Islamic State ruled according to the Sharia.

(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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