Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)

Alternative Names

IMU, O’zbekiston Islomiy Harakati


Summary

Threat to Kyrgyzstan

Currently Low, as the group has been pushed into Afghanistan. However due to their history of attacks in the country they still pose a real threat. At present their main activity in Kyrgyzstan is recruitment. Nevertheless their suspected involvement in drug trafficking is a destabilising factor in the south.

Location

North Afghanistan, Pakistan Tribal Authority, along Afghan/Tajik border

Leadership

The apparent current leader of the IMU is Usman  Ghazi and its spiritual leader is Sheikh Muhammad Ali. Although how centralised the organisation is to these figures is hard to discern.

The IMU is now seen to be a more fractured with various splinter groups, some of whose allegiances are very hard to identify.

Membership

IMU fighter numbers has been estimated between 5,000-7,000. Originally predominantly Uzbeks of the Fergana Valley, but now its members come from all over Central Asia as well as the Caucasus, Turkey and the Middle East.

It has also been reported that the IMU is able to keep replenishing its numbers due to regular movement of mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks across the Tajik-Afghan border.

Funding

The IMU received funding from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the 1990’s when it worked closely with the Taliban. However currently the majority of its funding comes from criminal activity, particularly the lucrative drug trade. The IMU was suspected of being funded by al-Qaeda, however after the declaration of support to the Islamic State (IS) it may receive funding from them.

Ideology and Objective

IMU seeks to topple the Government of Uzbekistan and continues to carry out attacks against security forces in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan and against NATOand Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

The IJU and the IMU are radical Sunni groups who follow a radical interpretation of Islam and Pan-Islamism.

Tactics

Suicide bombings, coordinated firearm assaults, kidnapping car bombs and other types of bomb attack. 


Major Attacks

1999 - Six car bombs in Tashkent, Uzbekistan,

2000 - Kidnap of fourAmerican climbers in Kyrgyzstan. They escaped.

2001– Present - Multiple attacks against US, NATO and Afghan coalition forces in Afghanistan

2004 - Attackby gunmen and suicide bombers against Uzbek security forces in Tashkent,.

2011 - Suicide bomber at Afghan official’s funeral

2012- IMU in coordination with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants attacked Bannu Prison in Pakistan. Mass jail break.

2014 - The IMU, and TTP fighters attacked Karachi Airport


History

  • Formed in late 1998 in Kabul, By Jumaboi Namangani (aka Jumaboi Khojayev; 1969-2001), a former Soviet paratrooper, and Tahir Yuldashev (1967-2009), an ideologue, both of whom came from the Fergana Valley.
  • The IMU’s aim is to overthrow Uzbekistan government, and are reported to want to turn the Central Asian states in to an extremist Islamist caliphate, “Turkestan”.
  • In the late 1990’s and early 2000s conducted raids from its bases in Tajikistan into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
  • These incursions were used to help penetrate the Fergana Valley, supply sleeper cells, to kill and kidnap government officials and troops and to challenge regional governments authority.
  • They are also accused of conducting terrorist bombings in this period. However, the accuracy of such reports is hard to verify.
  • They proved formidable opponents in 2000 where a group of 170 IMU insurgents defended their camp against a substantial force of Uzbek troops for a month.
  • Originally well-funded and trained they used the poverty of the region to recruit fighters to its cause, particularly in Batken and Osh provinces in Kyrgyzstan.
  • Brutal government oppression from the various authoritarian regimes in Central Asia also brings recruits to the IMU.
  • The IMU received funding from kidnapping foreign nationals, most notably Japanese and American citizens in 1990-2000.
  • After a military backlash from Kyrgyz and Uzbek forces; which were funded and trained by the US; as a result the IMU moved its base and operations to Afghanistan, and allied with the Taliban in 2001. Where they swore allegation to Mullah Omar.
  • In 2001 the IMU changed its name to the Islamic Party of Turkestan which ws accompanied its main objective changing from a sole Uzbekistan revolution to the creation of the “Turkestan Caliphate”.
  • The IMU engaged the US and its allies in Afghanistan and due to the subsequent backlash it was forced to move its base to northern Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Although the IMU maintained a presence in north Afghanistan.
  • Namagan died in the fighting after the US invasion and Tahir Yuldashev took command of the group.
  • In March 2002 internal disagreements led to the forming of a splinter group the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) which works closely with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network.
  • The IMU’s involvement in Central Asia is now more focused in Tajikistan due to the porous nature of Tajik-Afghan border.
  • Although the IMU has been implicated in multiple attacks in Central Asia: the 2004 suicide bombings at the US and Israeli Embassies in Tashkent, an explosion in Bukhara at a suspected terrorist safe house, suicide bombings in Andiron in 2009 and an attack on a border post on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border near the town of Khanabad.
  • The IMU remains a potent force, shown by their joint attack with the Pakistani Taliban on Karachi Airport which led to 36 deaths, 10 of which were the attackers.
  • After Karachi and the subsequent retaliatory response by the Pakistani military in 2014 in northern Warizstan, many of the IMU started to move back into northern Afghanistan. As the area has large number of Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, the IMU can easily operate in the region.
  • The rise of the Islamic state (ISIS) and the controversy over Mullah Omar’s death in 2015 has led to strained relations between the IMU and the Taliban. Which led in 2014 to Usman Ghazi; the leader of the IMU since 2012; pledging allegiance to ISIS, this was followed in 2015 the IMU’s spiritua lleader Sheikh Muhammad Ali 2012 pledging allegiance to the Islamic state.
  • IMU fighter numbers has been estimated between 5,000-7,000
  • The IMU is now seen to be a more fractured with various splinter groups, some of whose allegiances are very hard to identify.
  • In late 2015 a splinter group of the IMU fought alongside a splinter Taliban group in southern Zabul Province and was subsequently destroyed by a force of Taliban loyal to the new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and ethnic Hazara militiamen.
  • Usman Ghazi was reported to be in Zabul but his fate remains unknown.
  • While some of the northern groups of the IMU are reported to be still fighting alongside the Taliban against Afghan government forces.
  • It has also been reported that the IMU is able to keep replenishing its numbers due to regular movement of mostly Tajiks and Uzbek sacross the Tajik-Afghan border.
  • The IMU is currently made up of a mixture of ethnic groups: Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Uyghurs, Chechens, and Arabs.

Designed by Oliver McGough
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