Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry has claimed that the country’s security agencies managed to thwart 36 terrorist attacks in 2016 and stopped around 50 people from mounting attacks on government buildings.
Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda provided no details of specific alleged plots at his press conference on January 20, although there have been sporadic reports of would-be attacks. One circulated in the local media involved some kind of strike on residents of the capital, Dushanbe, during the May 9 Victory Day celebrations.
To believe Rahimzoda, the achievements of the Tajik security agencies in combating terrorism are little short of miraculous.
More than 400 people were detained last year in Tajikistan on suspicion of belonging to various terrorist groups, Rahimzoda said. Over the same period, 40 people joined Islamic State, he claimed.
If anything, the minister lamented that, with the odd exception, foreign partners are failing to take sufficient advantage of Tajikistan’s terrorist-busting abilities.
Rahimzoda boasted it was his ministry’s information that led to a terrorist group comprising 11 natives of Central Asia being rounded up in Russia. The alleged militants were purportedly members of the Islamic State group and were planning to blow up buildings in St. Petersburg, according to Russian officials.
A movie hitting the big screens in Uzbekistan this week is a fresh attempt at driving home the risks of terrorism and religious extremism.
Speaking at a preview of his movie, “Dadam Betob" (“Dad is Sick”) director and screenwriter Zulfikar Musakov told reporters he had presented the idea to state-run film company Uzbekfilm five years ago.
“My script only got the green light last year. This is my personal statement on the theme of religious extremism. I wanted to make a movie about the people that I love and that I don’t love,” he was cited as saying by news website Podrobno.uz.
At the center of the movie is Aziza, a mother to several children who decides that to raise funds to pay off the medical bills of her ill husband she must go work as a cab driver for a day. Her final customer of the day turns out to be Pokiza, who the film shows as having embraced religious extremism. Needless to say, it all ends in tears, kidnappings, gas pipelines being blown up and declarations of jihad.
The trailer for the movie — set most oddly to the music of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit Twist in My Sobriety — indicates filmgoers are in for a deeply melodramatic affair.
Film critic Aziz Matyabulov told EurasiaNet.org that Uzbek cinema rarely touches on the issue of religious extremism, so this should be considered something of a rare event.
“Movies like these have a good budget from the state and are filmed with professional actors, unlike [privately funded] movies,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Then again, while films about religious extremism might be rare, “Dadam Betob" is the second on the theme made in 2016 alone.
It will take some time before a satisfactory line is drawn under the shock attack on the Chinese embassy in Kyrgyzstan’s capital last August in which a suspected suicide bomber died and three embassy officials were injured.
At least three people named as suspects by Kyrgyz security services are claiming they had nothing to do with the attack.
Mubarak Turganbayev, who the State Committee National Security (GKNB) believes financed the attack, returned to Kyrgyzstan from Turkey voluntarily on October 4 and was subsequently taken into custody.
Turganbayev, who works for an Istanbul-based firm that arranges the delivery of cargo and cash between Turkey and Central Asia, has protested his innocence since September 7, when he gave an explanation on Facebook as to how he may have been caught up in the web of the investigation.
“A man called Burkhan, who has a restaurant business in Turkey asked to transfer $5,000 to a certain Iskender in Bishkek. The mobile phone number 0709-66-87-40 was indicated. Our staff transferred him the money. I want to say I have not participated in a terror act. A warrant was issued for my arrest without anyone making an attempt to contact me for questioning. I did not flee anywhere, and I am in close contact with the consul of Kyrgyzstan in Istanbul. I do not have and never have had links with terrorists,” Turganbayev wrote.
Burkhaniddin Zhantoraev (presumably the Burkhan in Turganbayev’s account) subsequently declared his innocence, again via Facebook, on September 20, as did Ilyas Sabirov, another Kyrgyz citizen reportedly working at the same firm as Turganbayev.
A car packed with explosives was rammed into China’s Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on August 30 in what appears to be an unprecedented terrorist attack.
Authorities have reported that one person, the attacker, was killed and three embassy employees were injured.
Police said that at around 9:33 am, a Mitsubishi-Delica smashed through the embassy and that an explosion was set off inside the grounds of the mission.
Deputy Prime Minister Zhenish Razzakov told reporters that the bomber “rammed the gate, kept going for 40 or 50 meters, and then detonated the car.” According to preliminary estimates, the blast had a TNT equivalent of 100 kilograms of TNT.
Police say the attacker was the only person killed. The alleged bomber’s identity has not been established.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Elena Bayalinova wrote on her Facebook page that the two of the injured embassy workers sustained concussions and fragment wounds, but that their condition was satisfactory. Another injured embassy employee traveled to the hospital under her own steam.
Residents in the south of Bishkek reported hearing a massive blast.
"At 9.35 am today, a loud blast nearly shook me off my chair at home. I went to the window and saw a mushroom of dust over the Chinese embassy. The loudest sound I've ever encountered, it was a scary experience”, wrote Facebook user Usha Rajak, who published a picture of the aftermath of the explosion from her apartment block nearby.
Photos of the aftermath show scenes of utter destruction from the Chinese Embassy building. Debris is scattered all around the grounds of the embassy. Some nearby residents reported shards from the embassy blast landing on their property.
Kazakhstan’s security services say they have detained members of an extremist organization plotting a series of terror attacks.
The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, said in a statement on August 22 that that the four people captured in the Almaty region in a special operation were citizens of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The operation took place on August 18.
The KNB said that they found components of improvised explosive devices and extremist religious material in the places where the group resided.
“The plan of the radicals to mount armed attacks on staff and places of deployment of KNB officers and police and on military bases have been neutralized. Their next stage was to be terrorist attacks on places where the public gather in large groups,” the KNB said.
The statement was typically perfunctory and similar in tone and detail to one in late June, when the KNB said it had intercepted a group in the central Karaganda region that it believed was also planning a series of terrorist strikes. Initial reports spoke of seven suspected plotters being arrested, but that figure was increased to eight in the first half of August.
And that is as much of a public update as has been provided, other than that the group is to be tried on terrorism and a variety of arms-related charges. The line is that in the interests of the investigation, no more details are being released.
This lack of transparency or even the slightest insight into what might be motivating would-be attackers is standard operating procedure for Kazakhstan’s security services.
The trail of the terrorist attack on Istanbul airport that killed 42 people looks now to be leading inexorably to the former Soviet Union, and Central Asia in particular.
The New York Times cited Turkish officials as saying on June 30 that the three suicide bombers that mounted the attack were citizens of Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan.
Turkey has already linked this to the Islamic State militant group, which is known to have large groups of Central Asian and Russian citizens among its ranks. Estimates on the exact number of Central Asians in the group vary, however, from the low hundreds into the thousands.
Turkey has said that 13 people, including three foreigners, have been detained in connection with the attack on Istanbul’s main airport on June 28. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which also claimed victims among Uzbek citizens, according to Turkish media.
Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry cast some confusion over proceedings by telling media that it could not confirm that one of its citizens had been linked the bombings.
“Employees from the Kyrgyz consulate met with representatives from the anti-terrorism department in Istanbul. They did not confirm the information. According to them, the identity of the suicide bombers is still being established,” the ministry said.
That statement appeared to have been superseded by events, however.
Kazakhstan’s security services have said they have intercepted a group planning a series of terrorist acts using improvised explosive devices.
One suspect blew himself up as law enforcements officers tried to go in for an arrest in the village of Gulshat, in the the central Karaganda region, The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement on June 29. Other members of the group appear to have been based in the town of Balkhash.
According to the statement, the apparent suicide blast occurred on June 26.
Officials claim to have made a number of arrests but provided no firm details.
“Objects seized included the components of an explosive device, firearms and other evidence,” the KNB said.
The statement made no allusions to the recent spurt of violence in the western city of Aktobe earlier in the month, when a large group of men seized weapons from a hunting supplies shop and went on to attack a National Guard base. Seven people, including three servicemen, were killed in that incident on June 5.
Authorities initially identified the perpetrators in Aktobe as belonging to a radical religious group and suggested they had received guidance from militants in Syria, but the flow of official information about the events has since run dry.
On June 6, following the unrest in Aktobe, authorities announced they were raising the terrorism alert to amber for a 40-day period.
While describing the group intercepted in the Karaganda region as terrorist plotters, authorities have avoided giving any specifics about motivations.
Security services in Kyrgyzstan say they have neutralized another international terrorist cell, although little to no firm information has been provided.
The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) said in a perfunctory statement on March 29 that the seven-person group was engaged in recruitment for combat activities in war zones, apparently a reference to Syria and Iraq.
The statement also states that the cell was priming for terrorist acts within Kyrgyzstan.
There is more that is not known, however. No names have been provided, for the individuals or the group to which they allegedly belonged. Even the location of the arrest is left vague and given only as “in the territory of one of the republic’s regions.”
This degree of nebulousness has become the trademark of the GKNB and will do little to dispel suspicions that its periodic terror scares are work of officials seeking to keep the public on edge.
In the past few months, the authorities have bestowed the anti-terror operation label on shootouts that appeared more like clashes with regular organized crime groups.
In its eagerness to counteract Islamic extremism, Uzbekistan has embraced a Cultural Revolution-style naming and shaming exercise.
Parents are being hauled before public meetings to be admonished for the sins of their militant sons and daughters in scenes reminiscent of the public castigations common during the Cultural Revolution in 1960s China.
“This sacred land, where model family relations are rooted, never forgives those who do not care about their children's future,” a doom-laden TV program intoned on January 26, according to a translation by BBC Monitoring.
“Unfortunately, some people, who have forgotten their parental obligations and are bringing up their children as traitors, do not seem to realize it,” the program – broadcast on the main state channel – said.
TV screens were filled with a sobbing elderly couple whose son is allegedly fighting with militants in Syria, filmed at a public meeting held in the Andijan Region in eastern Uzbekistan.
Although other areas of the country were featured in the program, the choice of Andijan as a venue was telling. The city was the scene of fatal unrest in 2005 which the government blamed on Islamic extremists, a version disputed by many survivors and by international human rights groups.
“What are the goals of these traitors? Who are they fighting for and dying for as dogs?” state TV asked rhetorically in its latest broadside against extremists, over footage of burials in foreign war zones.
President Islam Karimov frequently embraces alarmist talk about the threat to Uzbekistan and the wider region of Islamic extremism emanating out of Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan has endured nothing short of a plague of Islamist-inspired terrorism in 2015, if the authorities are to be believed.
In the latest apparent blow against militants, the security services announced on December 11 that they killed two dangerous terrorist suspects during a special operation in the capital, Bishkek.
Officials have said the men were guilty of the murder of a police officer on November 19. According to their account, the suspects shot Aktilek Abduvaliyev three times from a 9 millimeter Makarov pistol.
The alleged perpetrators turned out to be hardened criminals perviously convicted for robbery, illegal arms possession and inciting interethnic and religious hatred.
Four Makarov pistols, a grenade, the makings of an improvised explosive device and several mobile phones were found on the men, according to the state security service.
Following a pattern established after other recent shootouts with purported terrorists, the authorities claimed that the suspects were planning attacks in Bishkek and the surrounding Chui region.
In a curious detail, authorities pointed out that the pair used bicycles to move around. Equally strangely, the now-dead suspects are said to be members of a group called Jaysh al-Mahdi.
Government guidance on this organization describes it as arising from the eponymous Shia militia that came to prominence in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Kyrgyzstan is an overwhelming majority Sunni Muslim country, making the claims of an active Shia armed group troublesome to square.
Indeed, the security services appear to be having trouble recalling whom they have accused of belonging to which terrorist organization. The two men killed this week are said to have been operating under the command of organized crime boss Tariel Djumagulov.