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.
The trio are among at least eleven figures linked by the GKNB to the August 30 attack.
As of that date at least three of Zhantoraev’s relatives – all ethnic Uzbeks from southern Kyrgyzstan – have reportedly been arrested by the GKNB, along with another ethnic Uzbek from the same part of the country.
If Turganbayev, an ethnic Kyrgyz, is not released promptly, Zhantoraev and Sabirov will doubtless have little reason to follow his lead and return to Kyrgyzstan from Turkey, where the GKNB says they are in hiding.
The extent to which Turkey will cooperate with any extradition request, given the recent dip in relations, is also unclear.
When the GKNB first released information about the plot in September, they described an international effort that involved Turkey, Syria, Tajikistan and Uighurs (of uncertain citizenship).
“An unidentified member of Uighur terrorist groups, an ethnic Uighur, using the passport of a citizen of Tajikistan. Blew himself up on August 30 in the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan. According to the testimony of witnesses and accomplices in the terrorist attack, he spoke in Uighur and Chinese,” the GKNB said in a statement.
The ultimate identity of the bomber carrying a Tajik passport with the name Zoir Khalilov remains a mystery.
While most suspects were advertised by the GKNB using passport-style photos, the man that actually drove the car into the embassy’s gates before self-combusting is shown only in a captured still from airport surveillance.
That man, in turn, was said to be working under the orders of Sirozhiddin Mukhtarov (also known by the nom de guerre Abu Saloh), a Syria-based militant who now seemingly heads a militant group subordinate to the Al-Nusra front.
The GKNB identify Mukhtarov as a Kyrgyz national and an ethnic Uighur (while adding confusingly that he is listed as an ethnic Uzbek in the dedicated field in his passport). According to an RFE/RL report from 2015, his YouTube addresses are in Uzbek (the two languages share strong similarities but are not identical). How the GKNB established the link between Mukhtarov and the bomber is not clear.
The involvement of other states from the six-country Shanghai Cooperation Organization — of which Kyrgyzstan is a member — is also serving to further complicate the picture.
Sergei Smirnov, first deputy director of Russia's Federal Security Service, said at a September 13 meeting of SCO security services in Almaty, for instance, that the organization was considering a Russian link to the attack.
Nobody has clarified what he meant by that remark, least of all the Kyrgyz.