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By Jacob Zenn May 3rd, 2016, The CACI Analyst For more than a decade after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.
S., the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) was the “bogeyman” of Central Asian militancy. Rather, it was the Taliban who liquidated the IMU in late 2015 as punishment for its “betrayal” of the Taliban (and al-Qaeda) by pledging loyalty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the terrorist organization calling itself the Islamic State (ISIS).
The IBB, KTJ and other Uzbek militants in Syria continue to attract followers, gain battlefield experience and make international connections.
Moreover, the Russian airstrikes, which have taken a toll on the IBB and KTJ, have increased their desire for revenge against Russia and has by association refocused their interest to the Russian-speaking Central Asian states.
Since the Russian airstrikes, the IBB and KTJ have increased their outreach in social media networks to target Russian-speaking audiences, which has allowed them to skirt Uzbekistan’s otherwise state-controlled media policy and acquire thousands of online followers who sympathize with the plight of the Syrian civilians affected by the Russian airstrikes – and therefore also the militant groups like the IBB and KTJ that claim to defend civilians.
The IBB’s claims of attacks in northern Afghanistan in early 2016 also suggest that the IBB has the capability to return to Afghanistan and could, like the IMU in the late 1990s, obtain a haven provided by the Taliban, with whom the IBB and KTJ remain aligned.
IMPLICATIONS: The Taliban did not take kindly to Ghazi’s pledge of loyalty to Al-Baghdadi, especially since Ghazi did so after denouncing the Taliban and accusing them of lying about Mullah Umar still being alive (Ghazi proved to be correct on this point, as the Taliban later admitted Mullah Umar was indeed dead).
Syria was also logistically much easier to reach – mostly overland via Istanbul, a destination accessible by flight from Central Asia, Russia or the Middle East.In this sense, the IMU’s demise could ironically have a troubling effect from the government’s perspective.Nonetheless, serious concerns remain about terrorism in Uzbekistan.It was the most well-known militant group in Central Asia and abroad, even though it was in exile in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the protection of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This will change the nature of the militant threat to Central Asia and force a reconsideration of Uzbekistan’s counter-extremism measures.Years of drone strikes and counter-insurgency operations failed to eliminate the IMU. BACKGROUND: In 2014, when Al-Baghdadi declared the Caliphate, the IMU was already losing its recruits to Syria.