The Islamic State international terrorist group has been plotting attacks in Uzbekistan—so states a much-circulated report carried by a US military-sponsored website citing a previously unknown source in Uzbekistan’s intelligence service.
Though there are plenty of reasons to suspect the report is poorly sourced agitprop helping justify US military aid to Uzbekistan, ironically it appears the US military is giving Russia an excuse to expand its military presence in Central Asia.
“ISIL members were preparing a number of terror attacks for this spring in Uzbekistan, which is precisely why we are strengthening border security,” the report, published by the Pentagon-sponsored Central Asia Online website, quoted a certain Alisher Khamdamov of Uzbekistan’s National Security Service as saying.
“Law enforcement agencies have statements from Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [IMU] and ISIL members who were detained during November and December in Uzbekistan," Khamdamov, described as “an analyst for the National Security Service” (known as the SNB), went on to say.
“The detained Uzbek citizens underwent combat training in Pakistan in 2013 and then returned to Uzbekistan in 2014 to recruit youth into ISIL.”
Khamdamov revealed no details of how the alleged plots were thwarted by the SNB, which has made no further statement. Khamdamov is not known as a spokesperson for the SNB, and a Google search brings up no reports offering further details about his identity or showing him previously commenting for Uzbekistan’s shadowy security service.
The Central Asia Online report has been widely picked up by Russian and Central Asian media, including outlets accessible in Uzbekistan (and hence condoned by the government) like the 12news.uz news agency and the Kremlin-controlled RIA Novosti.
The actual threat posed by Islamic State to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states is disputed, but skeptics believe the administration of Islam Karimov has an interest in hyping the dangers—especially just after it benefited from US military largess in the form of the donation of 300 armored vehicles to counter terrorism.
Likewise, the Kremlin has appeared keen to talk up the risks from Islamic State to Central Asia, which would appear to serve the purpose of highlighting the need for the Russian military (which operates bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) to maintain a presence on Russia’s southern flank as a deterrent to terrorists.
It is perhaps ironic, then, that the latest report to hype the Islamic State terrorist threat to Central Asia comes from a website site funded by the US military, Central Asia Online, which describes itself as “sponsored by USCENTCOM to highlight movement toward greater regional stability both through bilateral and multilateral cooperative arrangements.”
Central Asia Online’s reporting has come under fire in the past for focusing on the positive aspects of Uzbekistan’s security cooperation with the United States, while ignoring the human rights abuses of Tashkent’s ruthless security apparatus.