Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
Islamic Party of Turkestan
Over the course of the last few years the IMU has fractured and members of what at least once was the IMU are now dispersed in Afghanistan, and in Syria and Iraq. In some cases it's fairly clear who they are fighting for, but in other instances it is very difficult to see their allegiance or motives.
In November 2015, one IMU splinter group, now loyal to the Islamic State (IS) militant group operating in Syria and Iraq, was fighting alongside a Taliban splinter group in Afghanistan's southern Zabul Province. Taliban fighters loyal to Mullah Omar's successor and ethnic Hazara militiamen crushed the IMU and a dissident Taliban force, which was under the command of Mullah Dadullah, the deputy leader of the Taliban splinter group.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is not only allied to the Islamic State (IS) group, but by mid-2015 considered itself part of it. In a 2-1/2 minute video, IMU leader Usmon Ghazi and his fighters are shown taking an oath of allegiance, in Arabic, to IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"Thank the Lord, following the Almighty's will we have pledged our allegiance (Bayaht, or Bay'a) to the Caliphate that has bowed to Islam," Ghazi is quoted as saying. "And we are now part of it."
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is an extremist organization that formed in the late 1990s and is currently based in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The IMU seeks to overthrow the government in Uzbekistan and establish a radical Islamist caliphate in all of “Turkestan," which it considers to be the Central Asian region between the Caspian Sea and Xinjiang in western China. The IMU became increasingly active in the Taliban-led insurgency in northern Afghanistan, providing the IMU with a springboard for future operations in Central Asia.
Up to 96.3% of Uzbekistan’s population self-identify as Muslims.1 Almost all are Sunni Muslims who describe themselves as followers of the Hanafi school that enjoys official support. External displays of religiosity, however, are carefully regulated and discouraged.
The vast majority of Uzbekistan’s Muslims do not participate in formally organized religious structures or attend mosque regularly (9% attend weekly), but Islam is increasingly a frame of reference for moral decisions and debates and an important part of Uzbek identity. This unusual dichotomy between public religious practice and private belief emerged as a result of authoritarian controls over civic and religious freedom.
An Islamic revivalist movement began in the late Soviet period and benefited from increased religious tolerance from Soviet authorities. Islamic values were seen by many as an attractive alternative to chaos, corruption and ethnic violence that emerged during the transition, especially in the peripheral Ferghana Valley, where many charismatic religious leaders had emerged with strong local followings.
The IMU began a coalition of Islamic militants from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states. It was closely affiliated with al-Qaida and, under the leadership of Tohir Yoldashev, embraced Usama Bin Ladin's anti-US, anti-Western agenda.
The roots of the IMU (O’zbekistaon Islomiy Harakati) are frequently traced to the 1991 confrontation in Namangan described above between Karimov, Yo’ldashev and Namangani. This approach presumes that the IMU developed its doctrine, goals and specifically its willingness to use terrorist violence to advance these shaped by the environment of the Ferghana Valley in the early 1990s, and implies that the same environment is likely to produce other similar groups.
In reality, however, during the intervening years between 1991 and its first operations in 1999 the founders of the IMU were influenced in important ways by drivers that did not then and do not now exist in Uzbekistan. Yoldashev, Namangani and their followers left Uzbekistan in early 1992 and parted ways. Namangani joined the Tajik Civil War (1992-1997) and served as a successful field commander for the United Tajik Opposition, fighting side by side with regional, and secular democratic groups. Yoldashev reportedly moved to Peshawar and traveled widely; it was in this period, not while living in the USSR, that he came under the influence of the Transnational Salafi Jihad (TSJ) movement and some of its leading figures.
It was not until the Tajik civil war ended that Namangani and Yoldashev resumed their cooperation. They formed the IMU around 1998 in Afghanistan and only at that time focused their activities on overthrowing Karimov and establishing an Islamic state inside Uzbekistan.
Yoldashev swore bayat (allegiance) to Mullah Omar. Uzbekistan actively supported the Northern Alliance against the Taliban; a victory against Karimov would have extended the power of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
In the late 1990s, Uzbekistan began battling a low-intensity insurgency. Early in the following decade, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) launched small, cross-border raids. Terrorist bombings, blamed on the IMU and splinter groups, have occurred sporadically, including multiple, simultaneous attacks in Tashkent in 1999 that narrowly missed President Karimov.
Since 1999, under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Uzbek government has arrested, tortured, and imprisoned (with sentences up to 20 years) thousands of Muslims who reject the state's control over religious practice. In some cases, a Muslim's piety alone brings down state suspicion and arrest. Human rights organizations report that the majority of inmates were arrested on specious drug charges or only for having offending literature on their person.
Though certain underground groups in Uzbekistan, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, pose a genuine security threat to the Uzbek government, virtually all observers (and many US government officials) contend that the current government's extremely repressive policies are actively contributing to the growth of-and popular support for-radicalized groups there.
The IMU in summer 2001 allied itself with the Taliban in Afghanistan, where most IMU fighters were then based, and subsequently engaged U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In June 2001, the IMU changed its name to the Islamic Party of Turkestan, and expanded its original goal of establishing an Islamic state in Uzbekistan to the creation of an Islamic state in all of Central Asia.
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the IMU appeared to have become less active in Uzbekistan. However, the IMU appears to have become more active in border countries (Tajikistan), often crossing the porous Afghan-Tajik border. This caused concern for the government and has resulted in additional security resources along the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border.
On 25 September 2002 the US Department of State is announcing the redesignation of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under US law. The group was first designated two years earler, and designations last for a two-year period.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a threat to the security of Uzbekistan and to the region. The group has close ties to al-Qaida and has received al-Qaida funds. It fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan against coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan military leader Juma Namangani apparently was killed during an airstrike last November.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is responsible for criminal acts of terrorism against the citizens of Uzbekistan and has also kidnapped foreigners, including four American mountain climbers who were held hostage in 2000 before being able to escape. In 1999, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan took a group of Japanese geologists hostage. We also believe the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was involved in explosions in Tashkent that killed 16 people and a bus hijacking in 1999, in which 2 passengers and several police were killed.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan also publicly called for the violent overthrow of the Government of Uzbekistan and has claimed responsibility for ongoing armed incursions into the territory of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. These actions have resulted in the deaths of a number of civilian Uzbek security personnel. There are indications that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan continues planning for additional terrorist attacks.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) relies heavily on drug trafficking through a number of central Asian routes as a means of funding military, political, and propaganda activities. As markets and processing capacity expand into new parts of Central Asia, the IMU has adjusted its military and trafficking activities to cope with interdiction in particular areas. The impact of military losses in Afghanistan on IMU's narcotics activity is not known because the status and priorities of its leaders were unclear.
The IMU participated in attacks on US and Coalition soldiers in Afghanistan and plotted attacks on US diplomatic facilities in Central Asia. In May 2003, Kyrgyzstani security forces disrupted an IMU cell that was seeking to bomb the US Embassy and a nearby hotel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
The IMU primarily targeted Uzbekistani interests before October 2001 and is believed to have been responsible for five car bombs in Tashkent in February 1999. Militants also took foreigners hostage in 1999 and 2000, including four US citizens who were mountain climbing in August 2000 and four Japanese geologists and eight Kyrgyzstani soldiers in August 1999.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and its splinter group the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) are very real organizations allied with al-Qaida. However, neither group has launched a significant attack inside Uzbekistan since 2004. Although the government prefers to refer to them as domestic groups, both are currently based in Pakistan. They have become integrated into the ongoing Afghan conflict and other priorities of the Transnational Salafi Jihad (TSJ) movement, and as a result have been severely degraded by US military operations.
Uzbekistan’s high level of authoritarian consolidation and effective security services make it difficult or impossible for these groups to carry out significant attacks inside Uzbekistan, and neither has significant ties any longer to Uzbekistan’s domestic population. Exaggerating the threat from and level of sympathy for these groups by tying them to any and all religiously observant Muslims, however, assists the Karimov regime in thoroughly repressing independent Islamic activity without generating popular unrest.
The IMU was implicated in the 2004 suicide bombings of the US and Israeli Embassies in Tashkent; and the detonation of explosives at a suspected terrorist hideout near Bukhara. In May 2009, a suicide bombing in Andijon and an assault on a border post near the town of Khanabad on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border led the government to temporarily increase its border security with Kyrgyzstan and in several towns in the Ferghana Valley.
In January 2015, an Islamic State spokesman announced the group's expansion into Khorasan -- an ancient province that included parts of modern Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
In an 02 August 2015 statement, the IMU accused the Taliban of lying about the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, and demanded that it tell the truth about the late Taliban leader's demise. Afghan officials announced on July 29 that Omar died in 2013 in Pakistan, and the Taliban confirmed the news shortly thereafter, although without naming a time or place. The IMU statement declared that the Taliban "cannot be trusted," and accused the Afghan militant group of collaboration with Pakistan's spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
In northern Afghanistan IMU fighters called "Jundullah," had been reported taking part in hostilities in seven of the eight northern Afghan provinces that border Central Asia. They had been there in small numbers for several years. Many more came after Pakistan launched an offensive into the North Waziristan tribal area in the spring of 2014. The IMU found shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas after US bombing mauled the IMU in Afghanistan's Kunduz and Takhar provinces in late 2001.
The IMU were given refuge in Pakistan by their Taliban and Al-Qaeda allies but the IMU caused many problems in the tribal areas during the time they were there. But after they claimed responsibility for the Karachi airport attack in June 2014, Pakistan's military made the group a priority target. Most appear to have fled back into Afghanistan.
The composition of the IMU group in the northeast was mixed, there are not only Uzbeks, but Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Uyghurs, Chechens, and Arabs as well. The IMU was able to replenish the losses of so many of its fighters as people from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, coming through Tajikistan, regularly joined them.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list