Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Claims Karachi Airport Attack
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – a murky terrorist group that may include jihadis from Central Asia, but likely has little to do with the region these days – has purportedly claimed credit for a deadly June 8-9 attack on Pakistan’s largest airport.
A statement attributed to the IMU began circulating online on June 10. It included photos of 10 men wearing turbans and holding Kalashnikovs, claiming they were IMU fighters who carried out the attack in Karachi as revenge for "bombardments and night attacks with fighter jets" by Pakistani armed forces in the northwestern Waziristan region.
The IMU fighters "wearing their explosive-filled vests" destroyed "many of the fighter jets, American drones and other military planes" in a secret part of the airport, the statement claimed.
The attack left at least 39 dead, including the 10 militants. After securing the airport, Pakistani security forces claimed the gunmen were ethnic Uzbeks. "The militants appear to be Uzbek," Reuters quoted one official as saying.
The IMU emerged in the mid-1990s, but got international attention in 1999 when it clashed with Kyrgyz troops in the Fergana Valley. After its leader Juma Namangani was killed in late 2001 by coalition airstrikes in northern Afghanistan, the group splintered. Analysts believe IMU members have been operating in alliance with other militant networks in Pakistan's tribal areas. The IMU is widely recognized as a terrorist organization by Western governments.
The IMU name is now "a brand for propaganda purposes to recruit" fighters, said one member of a panel discussion on the IMU hosted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last month.
In Central Asia, analysts have long worried the IMU could become a real threat after the US and NATO withdraw from Afghanistan. On the other hand, points out regional expert Arkady Dubnov for the Carnegie Moscow Center, some conspiracy theorists have posited that the Uzbek intelligence services control the IMU to use it as a pretext for cracking down on Uzbekistan’s embattled civil society and for harassing Muslims.
Indeed, it is difficult to gauge the group’s appeal within Central Asia, where authorities are prone to exaggerate the role of militant Islamists in order to justify repression.
Separately this week, Afghan authorities reportedly arrested two Uzbeks from Tajikistan who were allegedly members of the Taliban.