The chief suspect in the shooting of an exiled Uzbek imam in Sweden last winter has been detained in Russia, according to Swedish media.
Swedish media reported on October 13 that a 35-year-old man was detained in Russia on suspicion of the attempted murder of Obid-kori Nazarov, a prominent Uzbek imam who has political asylum in Sweden. Nazarov has been in a coma since the shooting, the independent Uznews.net website says.
The arrest has not been officially confirmed by Swedish or Russian law-enforcement bodies, but Uznews.net suggested that the man was Yuriy Zhukovskiy, a citizen of Uzbekistan and Russia identified as chief suspect by Swedish police after the shooting on February 22 in Stromsund. The arrest reportedly came after Swedish intelligence spotted the suspect using his cellphone in Russia.
An Uzbek couple suspected of complicity in the shooting were acquitted by a Swedish court in July.
In the 1990s, Nazarov gained popularity as an imam in Uzbekistan, where his fiery sermons led President Islam Karimov’s administration to cast him as an opponent at a time when the main challenge to Karimov’s rule came from clerics with wide public followings. He is still an influential preacher with a wide following.
The imam fled Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan in 1998 after the Uzbek authorities ordered his arrest on terrorism and extremism charges – crimes that were then, as now, commonly used to imprison Tashkent’s opponents, human rights organizations say. Tashkent accused Nazarov of links with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which espouses violence to achieve its goal of establishing a caliphate in Central Asia and is listed by Washington as a terrorist organization.
Nazarov has always denied the accusations, countering that he became a government target due to his refusal to tailor his preaching to the narrow confines permitted in Uzbekistan’s state-sanctioned Islamic institutions.
He fled to Europe in 2006 after Kazakhstan’s intelligence services rounded up nine of his Uzbek associates living in Kazakhstan and handed them over to Tashkent.
After Nazarov fled, relatives and associates suffered what his supporters saw as reprisals: Three brothers and three associates were imprisoned on extremism charges, and his son Khusnutdin disappeared in Tashkent in 2004.