Last Friday, three suicide bombers blew themselves up next two
the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and Prosecutor General's Office in
Three Uzbek security men, including the Israeli ambassador's
bodyguard, were killed and eight were civilians wounded. The
attacks coincided with the start of the trials of radical Islamists
accused of perpetrating massive March terrorist attacks killing 35
people and wounding scores. Two terrorist groups, Islamic Movement
of Uzbekistan (IMU), and Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for
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The two organizations are well known in the global jihadi
movement. In the late 1990s, the IMU was the leading threat to
Uzbekistan's stability. It launched bombings against government
offices in Tashkent in 1999 and committed kidnappings of foreigners
in the neighboring Kyrgyzstan. IMU was part of the al Qaeda-led
terrorist international based in Afghanistan and was mostly
destroyed in the Afghanistan war. Though its leader, Juma
Namangani, may have been killed in Afghanistan, another IMU
commander, Tahir Yuldashev, is said to have survived and may be
trying to reactivate his network.
Islamic Jihad, unknown in Uzbekstan until past spring, has
announced it was responsible for the March 2004 homicide bombings
and other attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara, and blamed Uzbekistan's
support of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the secular nature of
the regime for its actions.
Islamic Jihad is a known militant Sunni terrorist "brand" in use
in Egypt and the West Bank/Gaza, which was spawned by the Muslim
Brotherhood movement. In the 1990s, the Egyptian Jihad movement led
by Ayman Al-Zawahiri merged with bin Laden's al Qaeda. The Uzbek
attacks prove the Islamic Jihad has a "brand" appeal from Marrakesh
The July explosions are connected to legal proceedings against the
perpetrators of the March 2004 terror attack in Tashkent, which
killed more than 40 people. Both spring and summer attacks
demonstrate radical Islamist organizations are escalating security
threats in the region.
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan also claimed the attackers
may have been past members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami, a global
radical Islamist party with a presence throughout the Middle East
and Europe, reportedly headquartered in London. Hizb foments
antigovernment unrest, advocates overthrowing secular regimes
throughout the Muslim world, and fights for creating a Califate, a
military theocracy aimed at waging total war on the "land of the
sword" - the non-Muslim world.
The United States faces a tough choice in Uzbekistan. After
September 11, 2001, the U.S. has made a commitment to preserve the
security of a secular Islamic country greatly assisted the U.S.
military in preparing and carrying out the Afghanistan operation,
and which hosts a U.S. military base in Khanabad. The March 2002
U.S.-Uzbek Strategic Cooperation Framework includes a U.S. promise
to "regard with grave concern any external threat" to Uzbek
security and sovereignty. IMU, Islamic Jihad and Hizb-ut-Tahrir are
already a grave concern of the Uzbek and U.S. governments.
On the other hand, the Karimov regime's track record is far from
exemplary. Domestic dissidents, political and media critics and
Islamists are subject to harsh treatment and questionable legal
proceedings. Secular opposition parties are severely restricted.
There are numerous reports of torture and abuse of the legal and
law enforcement systems. Economic reform is stuttering.
Leftist-liberal nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with global
reach, which uphold civil rights and ignore Islamist terrorist
threats, make Uzbekistan a cause celebre.
Their concern and criticism have been at least partly recognized
by State Department. On July 13, spokesman Richard Boucher
announced Secretary of State Colin Powell cannot make a
determination of Uzbekistan's "substantial and continuing progress"
toward its 2002 Framework commitments. The Framework demands the
Karimov regime strive to respect human rights, establish a genuine
multiparty system, ensure free and fair elections and freedom of
expression, and media independence. As much as $18 million in
fiscal 2004 assistance may be affected.
There is no question the U.S. government should encourage the
Karimov regime to pursue political and economic reforms.
However, those who hasten to criticize Tashkent, need at the to
also recognize the real threats to the Uzbek people, its
government, and U.S. interests in the region. These dangers are
first and foremost Islamist.
Clearly, the terrorists' primary concern was not human rights. On
the contrary, by provoking secular or moderate Muslim governments
to take harsh measures, Islamist terrorists undermine those
regimes' international reputations and drive a wedge between them
and their democratic allies.
Furthermore, addressing anti-terrorist activities in Central Asia
by targeting U.S. allies, abusing human-rights rhetoric and
utilizing it to weaken or topple pro-American regimes is
self-defeating and nearsighted. Extremists view U.S. sanctions
against its allies as weakness. Such measures empower global terror
networks to provoke pro-Western regimes.
A militant Islamic takeover of Uzbekistan may provide radicals a
state base larger and militarily and technologically more
sophisticated than Afghanistan. Moreover, demise of a secular
Uzbekistan may have tumultuous consequences for all Central Asia.
If Islamists overrun Uzbekistan, weak Central Asian states, such as
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and even the totalitarian Turkmenistan, may
follow. An Uzbekistan controlled by a radical Islamist regime,
emergence of a Central Asian Califate, and waning U.S. influence in
the region, will leave human rights and individual freedoms worse
off than they are now.
Ariel Cohen is a research fellow in Russian and Eurasian
Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Times
Last Friday, three suicide bombers blew themselves up next two the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and Prosecutor General's Office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
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