Law-enforcement authorities in Kyrgyzstan suggest that two men detained in connection with a recent bombing may have ties to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an insurgent group that has been long been dormant. Pro-government media outlets have warned that Islamic radical groups are targeting Kyrgyzstan for terror attacks, but some political observers believe the threat may be exaggerated.
The May 8 bombing at a currency exchange office in the southern city of Osh killed one employee. At a May 12 news conference, Deputy Interior Minister Rasulberdi Raimberdiev, without referring to any specific group by name, inferred that two men arrested on suspicion of involvement in the blast had ties to the IMU, which carried out incursions in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. Raimberdiev also linked the duo to a December explosion at a Bishkek market that left seven dead.
Also on May 12, Kyrgyz officials announced that six suspected members of the underground Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir had been detained in Osh reportedly caught in the act of distributing anti-government leaflets.
The news of the arrests has followed several reports in the pro-government newspaper Vecherny Bishkek voicing concerning about "the intensification of activities of numerous extremist organizations in our region [Central Asia]." The newspaper maintained that the US-led military offensive in Iraq has prompted Islamic radical groups to step up activity. The newspaper articles focused most of their attention on Hizb, which advocates the non-violent overthrow of established governments in Central Asia and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the region.
Hizb's intention is "to make the most of the situation both in the republic [Kyrgyzstan] and in the world at large to spread their ideology and recruit more members," according to a May 6 commentary in Vecherny Bishkek.
Officials have said that in recent months Hizb activists in Kyrgyzstan have expanded their agit-prop operations, moving beyond their traditional bastion of popular support in southern Kyrgyzstan into northern parts of the country, including the capital, Bishkek. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives].
A Vecherny Bishkek news analysis published April 30 suggested Hizb operations in northern Kyrgyzstan may be a diversion. "Most likely it is
Alisher Khamidov is a Muskie Fellow at Joan B. Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University.