Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

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Created as a result of events in December 1991 and becoming more prominent in 1998, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is an insurgency based on Salafist religious doctrines, allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Their area of operations is not limited to Uzbekistan, but centers on the Ferghana Valley, where the Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik borders come together. They have also operated in Afghanistan with the support of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Like the Taliban, it wants to enforce sharia "not as a way of creating just society but simply as a means to regulate personal behavior and dress code for Muslims - a concept that distorts centuries of tradition, culture, history, and even the religion of Islam itself."[1] Its existence is one of the reasons that the government of Uzbekistan has cooperated with the U.S. in the Afghanistan War (2001-). The United States first declared it a terrorist organization in 2000 and has renewed the designation for the Movement, also known as Islamic Jihad. [2]

It started as an activist spinoff, called Adolat (or Justice), of the Uzbekistan branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which participated in politics but was not fully committed to turning the nation into an Islamic state. The triggering incident was the seizure of the Communist Party offices in the eastern city of Namangan, after the mayor refused to give a group of unemployed young Muslims land to build a mosque. Their leaders were Tohir Abdouhalilovitch Yuldeshev, and Jumaboi Ahmadzhanovitch Khojaev (who later renamed himself Namangani after his native city). Yuldeshev, a mullah in the Islamic underground movement, while Namangani was a former Uzbek Soviet paratrooper who had served in Afghanistan with the mujahideen, who had become a radical jihadist. [3]


They became the dominant power in Namangan. "Young men wearing green armbands would regularly be seen throughout the city and would "punish" all those who, in their opinion, were violating the law. Punishments meted out to thieves and prostitutes, if viewed from the perspective of Western jurisprudence, were rather exotic: Some of the culprits were seated on donkeys, face to tail, and paraded all over the city; others were tied to poles for passers-by to spit in their faces or were flogged in mosques." [4]

As a result of this show of power, there was a crackdown in later 1991. Eventually, Uzbekistan president Karimov banned Adolat in March 1992, arresting some of its members, with the leadership escaping to Tajikistan, enlisting with its IRP there.


When civil war started in Takikistan, Yuldeshev traveled through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, building contacts with both Islamist movements and intelligence services.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence gave such support; he lived in Peshawar from 1995 to 1998. There were reports he also received support from intelligence services and Islamic charities in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. Yuldeshev met with leaders in the first Chechen war of 1994-96. He set up cells of of the Adolat party throughout Central Asia which would be activated in the subsequent IMU campaigns.


They participated in the the United Tajik Opposition. Fighting in the Tajik civil war, Namangani built a reputation as a leader, and was appointed aide to one of the most influential field commanders, Mirzo Ziev, who now, in the coalition, is Tajikistan's minister for emergency situations.[4]

Namangani initially refused to accept the cease-fire but eventually settling in the village of Hait. In Hait, near Tajikobad, he began working in the transportation business, which led to drug smuggling to finance his growing group of radicals who had rejected the Tajikistan cease-fire. [3] They built another training camp near Tavildara. [4]

In Uzbekistan, they did receive airlifts of supplies from Mirzo Ziev's ministry.[4] After being pursued in Uzbekistan for murders in 1997, where President Karimov was supporting anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, they began to move to Afghanistan. [3]


In the summer of 1999, they attacked from Karategin in Tajikistan, through the territory of Kyrgyzstan, to break into Uzbekistan, intending to "liberate" the Ferghana valley and establish an Islamic state. After long and heavy fighting with the armed forces of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the militants withdrew to Tajikistan. They attacked again in 2000, invading both Kyrgyzstan and the Surkhandarya administrative region of Uzbekistan. [4]Afterwards, they moved their base Afghanistan.

The two leaders became guests of the Taliban in 1998, and they announced the formation of the IMU from Kabul. Yuldeshev met Osama bin Laden, who recognized the Uzbek as a means to expanding al-Qaeda influence into Central Asia. Saudi Arabia may also have provided support. [3].

Drug involvement

It has stayed involved in drug trafficking, and may handle 70 percent of the heroin and opium traffic through Central Asia. [3] It has partnered with the Taliban. [5]


With a sanctuary in Afghanistan, they operated in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley, where the Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik borders converge. IMU exploited differences among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, they set off car bombs that killed 16 people in 1999. Also in Tashkent, they conducted numerous kidnappings, including that of four American mountaineers who escaped after being held for six days in August 2000, which led to the U.S. declaration of the IMU as a terrorist organization

Afghanistan War (2001-)

They fought in the Shah-I-Kot valley, taking heavy losses. According to Gary Bertnsen, Juma Namangani was a leader in the Battle of Kunduz and was killed in a U.S. air strike.[6]. Nevertheless, the true power base is not in Afghanistan but in the Ferghana Valley itself, where it continued to recruit as a result of dissatisfaction against Karimov.

The IMU has been blamed for explosions in Kyrgyzstan, in the capital, Bishkek, in December 2002 and in Osh in May 2003. These killed eight people. Another attempt was broken up in May 2003, which planned to bomb the U.S. Embassy and a nearby hotel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In November 2004, the IMU was blamed for another explosion in Osh that killed one police officer and one terrorist. Tajikistan government forces arrested several IMU members in 2005. [7]

Jihad in Pakistan

Baitullah Mehsud's Taliban faction, Tehrik-e-Taliban is reported to contain volunteers from the IMU. [8] This faction specifically wants to overthrow the Pakistani government, rather than simply support the Taliban in Afghanistan as do the other factions.


  1. Ahmed Rashid, Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia, , Yale University Press, 2002, quoted by Center for Defense Information
  2. Foreign Terrorist Organization: Redesignation of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Alias, U.S. Department of State, September 24, 2004
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Spotlight: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Center for Defense Information,
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Igor Rotar (December 18, 2003), "The Islamic Movement Of Uzbekistan: A Resurgent Imu?", Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation
  5. Gretchen Peters (2009), Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda, St. Martin's, ISBN 0312379277, pp. 130-133
  6. Gary Bertsen and Ralph Pezzulo (2005), JAWBREAKER: The attack on Bin Laden and al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Field Commander, Three Rivers Press, Crown Publishing Group, Random House, ISBN 0307351068, p. 242
  7. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State (April 30, 2009), Chapter 6. Terrorist Organizations, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008
  8. Declan Walsh (May 12, 2009), Taliban steps up attacks in Pakistan's tribal belt