Overview

Executive Summary:

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is an internationally designated terrorist organization founded in 1998 with the goal of overthrowing the Uzbek government and replacing it with an Islamic state.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257. The IMU long pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but in 2015, the group’s emir and most of its fighters publicly shifted their affiliation to ISIS. Dissident factions, however, continued to assert fidelity to their longstanding patrons.“Chapter 5: Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2017, U.S. Department of State, September 19, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2017/; Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss, “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan faction emerges after group’s collapse,” Long War Journal, June 14, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-faction-emerges-after-groups-collapse.php.

The group was created in Afghanistan, receiving sanctuary from the Taliban government, and was initially based in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), last modified March 2015, https://www.start.umd.edu/baad/narratives/islamic-movement-uzbekistan-imu. The group received support early on from the Taliban and reportedly from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency as well.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency in Uzbekistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, 5, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf. The IMU has attracted recruits from Central Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa, China, Russia, and the Philippines.“Terrorist Organisations: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, accessed June 11, 2019, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx; “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” United Nations, accessed May 24, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan; Jacob Zenn, “On the Eve of 2014: Islamism in Central Asia,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 15 (June 2013), 73, https://www.hudson.org/content/researchattachments/attachment/1378/zenn_vol15.pdf.

The IMU has conducted attacks across the region, targeting both civilians, community leaders, and security forces in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.Qishloq Ovozi, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan: An Evolving Threat,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, May 31, 2014, https://www.rferl.org/a/islamic-movement-uzbekistan-roundtable/25405614.html; “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, August 17, 2018, https://www.nonproliferation.org/islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-imu/; “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” United Nations, accessed May 24, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan. These attacks include kidnapping, suicide bombings, and other operations coordinated with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and later ISIS.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, last modified August 31, 2018, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/islamic-movement-uzbekistan; “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” United Nations, accessed May 24, 2019, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/entity/islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan.

After the U.S.-led war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan commenced in 2001, the IMU shifted its focus to fighting alongside the Taliban against NATO and Afghan government forces.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257. The group suffered heavy losses fighting U.S. forces, including the death of its cofounder and emir, Juma Namangani.David Witter, “Uzbek Militancy in Pakistan’s Tribal Region,” Institute for the Study of War, January 27, 2011, 1-2, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/BackgrounderIMU_28Jan.pdf. The group consequently retreated in 2002 to South Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).David Witter, “Uzbek Militancy in Pakistan’s Tribal Region,” Institute for the Study of War, January 27, 2011, 1-2, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/BackgrounderIMU_28Jan.pdf. Internal disputes led to a split within the IMU and a small splinter faction, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), formed in the FATA.“Islamic Jihad Union,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, U.S. Department of State, July 19, 2017, https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2016/. In 2009, the IMU’s other cofounder, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed by a U.S. drone strike, while another strike killed his successor, Abu Usman, in 2011. Thus, by the end of 2011, all of the IMU’s original leadership and most original members had been killed, and the group struggled to maintain operational and recruitment ties to Uzbekistan.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency in Uzbekistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, 5, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf.

Between 2010 and 2013, the IMU focused its recruitment efforts on the Uzbek and Tajik populations in northern Afghanistan, from which the NATO-led coalition forces had recently withdrawn.Bethany Matta, “Uzbek Fighters Gain Support in Afghan North,” Al Jazeera, April 10, 2013, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134910314648770.html; “Tajikistan: Changing Insurgent Threats,” International Crisis Group, Asia Report no. 205, May 24, 2011, https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/central-asia/tajikistan/tajikistan-changing-insurgent-threats. Coalition forces carried out six anti-IMU raids in the first quarter of 2012, including three in these northern provinces.Bethany Matta, “Uzbek Fighters Gain Support in Afghan North,” Al Jazeera, April 10, 2013, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134910314648770.html. However, all but one of the 12 anti-IMU raids conducted in the first quarter of 2013 occurred in this region, emphasizing the IMU’s expanded presence here.Bethany Matta, “Uzbek Fighters Gain Support in Afghan North,” Al Jazeera, April 10, 2013, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134910314648770.html. General Zalmai Wesa, 209th Afghan National Army Corps commander in the north, stated in April 2013 that “IMU fighters are the main focus of our special forces operations. They are all over north-eastern Afghanistan [where] they train locals in IEDs, suicide attacks and other sophisticated attacks and are behind the assassination of a number of officials and tribal elders.”Bethany Matta, “Uzbek Fighters Gain Support in Afghan North,” Al Jazeera, April 10, 2013, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134910314648770.html.

The IMU publicly allied with ISIS in September 2014 and the IMU’s then-leader, Usman Ghazi, formally swore allegiance to the latter in August 2015.Merhat Sharipzhan, “IMU Declares It Is Now Part of the Islamic State,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, August 6, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/imu-islamic-state/27174567.html; Damon Mehl, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 6 (June 2015), https://ctc.usma.edu/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-opens-a-door-to-the-islamic-state/. The Taliban demanded that the IMU disclaim its oath of allegiance to ISIS or leave Afghanistan. Subsequently, several IMU members reaffiliated with the Taliban, but Ghazi and others rejected the ultimatum and remained in Afghanistan. The Taliban then launched a major military campaign against IMU strongholds, killing Ghazi and largely wiping out the group.Jacob Zenn, “The IMU Is Extinct: What Next for Central Asia's Jihadis?,” Central Asia Caucus Analyst, May 3, 2016, https://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13357-the-imu-is-extinct-what-new-for-central-asias-jihadis?.html; Nathaniel Barr, “Wilayat Khorasan Stumbles in Afghanistan,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 15, no. 5 (March 3, 2016), https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Terrorism_Monitor_-_Volume_XV__Issue_5_01.pdf?x69015.

A January 2017 United Nations report stated that the IMU continues to fight in northern Afghanistan, with some splinter groups attempting to spread into Central Asian states.“Currently Listed Entities,” Public Safety Canada, February 15, 2018, https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-en.aspx#34. However, analysts believe the group operates at only a fraction of its past strength and no longer poses a serious threat to regional stability.Jacob Zenn, “The IMU Is Extinct: What Next for Central Asia's Jihadis?,” Central Asia Caucus Analyst, May 3, 2016, https://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13357-the-imu-is-extinct-what-new-for-central-asias-jihadis?.html; Nathaniel Barr, “Wilayat Khorasan Stumbles in Afghanistan,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 15, no. 5 (March 3, 2016), https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Terrorism_Monitor_-_Volume_XV__Issue_5_01.pdf?x69015.

Doctrine:

IMU cofounder Tahir Yuldashev is considered the group’s spiritual founder and was a local mullah in Namangan, Uzbekistan. In 1990, he and his followers were members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (I.R.P.) but they quickly left it and formed the Adolat party, claiming that the I.R.P. was too slow to implement an Islamic revolution.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping. The Uzbek government outlawed Adolat in 1992 following increased militancy within the group and initiated a brutal crackdown of its supporters.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping. Yuldashev and Namangani fled to Tajikistan, where Namangani led a group of Uzbek and Tajik militants—many of whom were former Adolat members—against the Tajik government.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping.

Upon its founding in 1998, the IMU claimed that its main goal was to overthrow the Uzbek government and replace it with an Islamic state.Damon Mehl, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 6 (June 2015), https://ctc.usma.edu/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-opens-a-door-to-the-islamic-state/. The group changed its name in April 2001 to “the Islamic Party of Turkestan” as its territorial ambitions grew to establish a caliphate across all of Central Asia and even Muslim-majority provinces of China.Gulnoza Saidazimova, “Central Asia: Is Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Really Back?,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, February 2, 2006, https://www.rferl.org/a/1065364.html. However, after IMU cofounder Juma Namangani swore allegiance to the Taliban’s Mullah Omar in 2001, the group has focused its fighting against the United States, NATO, and later Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and largely has not carried out attacks in Uzbekistan.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency in Uzbekistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf.

The IMU had deep ties to the Islamic extremist Lal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. Yuldashev said in 2007 that:

We consider them [Lal Masjid] a part of us before, during and after the [siege]… their shaheed are our shaheed... their prisoners are our prisoners.... every member of the Harakat [i.e. IMU] will stand up against the terrorist act that took place on Lal Masjid. ... After Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan ranks 3rd in the کاروای جہادی (“jihadi operations”) launched on its territory. We will always be a part of these activities.Qandeel Siddique, “The Red Mosque Operation and Its Impact on the Growth of the Pakistani Taliban,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), October 8, 2008, https://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/08-01915.pdf.

The Lal Mosque was infamous for its militant activism, including facilitating the transport of foreign fighters to Afghanistan, kidnapping prostitutes, ransoming police officers, and supporting violent anti-Shia groups.Qandeel Siddique, “The Red Mosque Operation and Its Impact on the Growth of the Pakistani Taliban,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), October 8, 2008, https://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/08-01915.pdf. Following the Pakistan security forces’ violent siege of the Lal Mosque in July 2007, the IMU released two videos showing its fighters executing Pakistani soldiers.Qandeel Siddique, “The Red Mosque Operation and Its Impact on the Growth of the Pakistani Taliban,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), October 8, 2008, https://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/08-01915.pdf.

The IMU sided with ISIS in its fight against the Taliban in September 2014, fully pledging allegiance to the organization in August 2015.Damon Mehl, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 6 (June 2015), https://ctc.usma.edu/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-opens-a-door-to-the-islamic-state/; Merhat Sharipzhan, “IMU Declares It Is Now Part of the Islamic State,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, August 6, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/imu-islamic-state/27174567.html. Following this, the Taliban launched a major military campaign against IMU strongholds, killing its emir and largely wiping out the group.Jacob Zenn, “The IMU Is Extinct: What Next for Central Asia’s Jihadis?,” Central Asia Caucus Analyst, May 3, 2016, https://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13357-the-imu-is-extinct-what-new-for-central-asias-jihadis?.html.

Organizational Structure:

The IMU originally consisted mostly of Uzbeks and was led by a military leader, Juma Namangani, and a spiritual leader, Tahir Yuldashev.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency In Uzbekistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf. The organization set up training camps in northern Afghanistan in the late 1990s, from where it carried out attacks in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257. The Taliban also allowed the group to open political offices in Kabul, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-Sharif to aid recruitment.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping.

After NATO invaded Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks, the IMU suffered heavy losses fighting against U.S. forces, including the death of Namangani.David Witter, “Uzbek Militancy in Pakistan’s Tribal Region,” Institute for the Study of War, January 27, 2011, 1-2, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/BackgrounderIMU_28Jan.pdf. The group consequently retreated in 2002 to South Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).David Witter, “Uzbek Militancy in Pakistan’s Tribal Region,” Institute for the Study of War, January 27, 2011, 1-2, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/BackgrounderIMU_28Jan.pdf. Internal disputes led to a split within the IMU and a small splinter faction, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), formed in the FATA.“Islamic Jihad Union,” Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, U.S. Department of State, July 19, 2017, https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2016/. In 2009, the IMU’s other cofounder, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed by a U.S. drone strike, and another strike killed his successor, Abu Usman, in 2011. Thus, by the end of 2011 all of the IMU’s original leadership and most original members had been killed, and the group struggled to maintain operational and recruitment ties to Uzbekistan.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency in Uzbekistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, 5, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf. Following Yuldashev’s death in 2009, a Bangladeshi sheikh became the group’s new spiritual leader.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency in Uzbekistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, 5, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf.

After pledging allegiance to ISIS in 2015, the IMU lost an estimated 90 percent of its strength in southern Afghanistan to sustained Taliban attacks.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx. It is estimated that the group retained 200-300 fighters in northern Afghanistan, including men from Africa, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and China that fight alongside ISIS.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx. IMU Emir Usman Ghazi was killed in fighting against the Taliban and the group has not publicly named a successor.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx.

Financing:

The IMU has financially supported itself both through external fundraising and participation in black-market economies. According to the Australian government, Uzbek expats in Saudi Arabia, Turkish foundations, Islamist and pan-Turkic organizations, and like-minded Arab foundations and banks have been crucial sources of revenue for the group.Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 15, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20130731093140/http://www.ema.gov.au/agd/WWW/nationalsecurity.nsf/Page/What_Governments_are_doing_Listing_of_Terrorism_Organisations_Islamic_Movement_of_Uzbekistan. The IMU also received financial support from the Taliban and al-Qaeda from its founding until 2014, when it switched its allegiance to ISIS.Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 15, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20130731093140/http://www.ema.gov.au/agd/WWW/nationalsecurity.nsf/Page/What_Governments_are_doing_Listing_of_Terrorism_Organisations_Islamic_Movement_of_Uzbekistan.

The IMU has also resorted to illegal financing, including drug trafficking and racketeering.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx. Ten Europeans were arrested in May 2008 for operating a network funneling at least 300,000 euros to the IMU in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. On January 8, 2013, French authorities sentenced Irfan Demirtas, a Turkish-Dutch national charged with leading the network, to eight years in prison.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx. In August 2015, Fazliddin Kurbanov, an Uzbek national, was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in the United States after being found guilty of attempting to provide material support to the IMU, as well as seeking to obtain bomb-making materials in order to carry out attacks on the United States.“Kurbanov Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 7, 2016, https://www.justice.gov/usao-id/pr/kurbanov-sentenced-25-years-prison.

Recruitment:

The group has successfully exploited the widespread poverty of the Ferghana Valley—a region bordering Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—to recruit.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx. Initially, most of the IMU’s fighters came from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, but also included Chechens and Uighurs.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257; “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 15, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20130731093140/http://www.ema.gov.au/agd/WWW/nationalsecurity.nsf/Page/What_Governments_are_doing_Listing_of_Terrorism_Organisations_Islamic_Movement_of_Uzbekistan. Between 1998 and 2001, the group ran Taliban-approved political offices in Kabul, Kandahar, and Mazar e-Sharif to assist recruitment efforts. In these early years it was reported that Namangani paid IMU members between 100 and 500 U.S. dollars per month, a huge incentive for impoverished men in the region to join.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping.

By the mid-2000s, as Yuldashev established the IMU as the most powerful non-Arab regional group supportive of al-Qaeda, the organization was able to expand its recruitment base to include Turkmen, Turks, Afghans, Pashtun and non-Pashtun Pakistanis, Arabs, Chinese, Germans, Norwegians, and Russians.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257; Christopher Anzalone, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan: Down but Not Out,” Foreign Policy, November 20, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/20/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-down-but-not-out/. The group has particularly targeted Germans, including via German-language recruitment videos displaying attacks on Pakistani forces and inviting prospective German fighters and their families to leave Germany to go to the IMU’s base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 15, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20130731093140/http://www.ema.gov.au/agd/WWW/nationalsecurity.nsf/Page/What_Governments_are_doing_Listing_of_Terrorism_Organisations_Islamic_Movement_of_Uzbekistan; Christopher Anzalone, “Al Qaeda Loses Bridge to the West,” Foreign Policy, January 28, 2011, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/28/al-qaeda-loses-bridge-to-the-west/. In 2011, German authorities suspected the IMU of operating the largest militant recruitment network inside the country. The German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation confirmed that as of 2010, nearly 100 individuals joined militant groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.Christopher Anzalone, “Al Qaeda Loses Bridge to the West,” Foreign Policy, January 28, 2011, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/28/al-qaeda-loses-bridge-to-the-west/. However, after most of the group was killed in fighting against the Taliban in late 2015,Christopher Anzalone, “Al Qaeda Loses Bridge to the West,” Foreign Policy, January 28, 2011, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/28/al-qaeda-loses-bridge-to-the-west/. recruitment efforts were significantly harmed, as potential recruits instead traveled to Syria to join new Uzbek and Central Asian jihadist organizations fighting against the Assad regime.Jacob Zenn, “The IMU Is Extinct: What Next for Central Asia’s Jihadis?,” Central Asia Caucus Analyst, May 3, 2016, https://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13357-the-imu-is-extinct-what-new-for-central-asias-jihadis?.html.Much of the IMU’s remaining membership consists of men from Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, China, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan that fight alongside ISIS.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 3, 2018, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx.

Training:

Between 1995 and 1998, IMU cofounder Tahir Yuldashev lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he obtained the support of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema Islam Party, which trained his Uzbek followers in their Pakistani madrassas.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping. When the IMU formed in 1998, the Taliban supported the group financially and allowed it to set up training camps in northern Afghanistan, from where it launched attacks against the governments of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257. These Afghan camps used instructors and manuals written in several languages to train members in operating weapons, rigging booby traps, and assembling car bombs.Ahmed Rashid, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002,https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping.

The IMU has also taken charge of training their allies’ members, with a focus on developing suicide squads.Anne Stenersen, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s Role in Attacks in Pakistan,” CTC Sentinel 7, no. 7 (July 2014), 4, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2014/07/CTCSentinel-Vol7Iss72.pdf. The IMU provides manpower and training to operations planned by these groups, although they do not appear to contribute to strategic planning.Ahmed Rashid, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping.

Key Leaders

  • Tahir Yuldashev

    Cofounder, Emir (deceased)
  • Juma Namangani

    Cofounder, Emir (deceased)
  • Abu Usman Adil

    Emir (deceased)
  • Abbas Mansour

    Military commander (deceased)
  • Abdul Aziz Ukasha

    Key media operative (deceased)
  • Usman Ghazi

    Emir, former deputy Emir (deceased)
  • Abu Dher al-Barmi

    Former mufti and spokesman (deceased)

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by U.S. Government:

September 25, 2000: The U.S. Department of State designates the IMU as a foreign terrorist organization.“Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

Australia lists the IMU as a terrorist organization on April 11, 2003.“Terrorist Organisations: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, accessed June 11, 2019, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/IslamicMovementofUzbekistan.aspx. Canada lists the IMU as a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda on April 2, 2003.“Currently Listed Entities,” Public Safety Canada, February 15, 2018, https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-en.aspx#34.
The European Council enacted Regulation 881/2002 on May 27, 2002. The regulation imposed “certain specific restrictive measures directed against certain persons and entities associated with Usama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda network and the Taliban” and froze “funds and other financial resources in respect of the Taliban of Afghanistan.” Targeted groups include the IMU.“Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002 of 27 May 2002,” European Council, May 29, 2002, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32002R0881&from=EN/. The IMU is listed as a terrorist organization in Kazakhstan.“Fight against Terrorism and Extremism in Kazakhstan,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan, last modified May 9, 2014, http://mfa.gov.kz/en/content-view/borba-s-terrorizmom-i-ekstremizmom-v-kazakhstane.
Russia lists the IMU as a terrorist organization on February 14, 2003.“Единый федеральный список организаций, в том числе иностранных и международных организаций, признанных в соответствии с законодательством Российской Федерации террористическими,” Федеральная служба безопасности Российской Федерации,” accessed April 17, 2015, http://www.fsb.ru/fsb/npd/terror.htm. The United Kingdom designates the IMU as a proscribed terrorist organization in November 2002.“Proscribed Terrorist Organisations,” Home Office, April 12, 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/795457/Proscription_website.pdf.

Associations

Al-Qaeda

The IMU’s ties to al-Qaeda date back to just before its founding, when Osama Bin Laden provided funding to Yuldashev and Namangani to help the two men establish the group.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, August 31, 2018, https://internal.fsi.stanford.edu/content/mmp-islamic-movement-uzbekistan. Bin Laden also provided weapons, training, and logistical support to the group until 2002, by which time the IMU had moved to Pakistan and come under the protection of TTP.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping; “Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, August 31, 2018, https://internal.fsi.stanford.edu/content/mmp-islamic-movement-uzbekistan. The IMU and al-Qaeda maintained close ties afterward, with senior IMU leaders reportedly holding positions within al-Qaeda.“Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,” Australian National Security, March 15, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20130731093140/http://www.ema.gov.au/agd/WWW/nationalsecurity.nsf/Page/What_Governments_are_doing_Listing_of_Terrorism_Organisations_Islamic_Movement_of_Uzbekistan. The two groups also conducted joint attacks against NATO and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan. For example, on May 18, 2010, the IMU, al-Qaeda, and TTP launched a joint suicide bombing against NATO forces in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base, killing one American and wounding nine others.Hamid Shalizi, “Afghan Taliban Launch Brazen Attack on Bagram Base,” Reuters, May 18, 2010, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-afghanistan-attack/afghan-taliban-launch-brazen-attack-on-bagram-base-idUKTRE64I0KV20100519; Christopher Anzalone, “Al Qaeda Loses Bridge to the West,” Foreign Policy, January 28, 2011, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/28/al-qaeda-loses-bridge-to-the-west/.

Taliban

IMU’s ties to the Taliban date back to the former’s founding in 1998. The Uzbekistan government had long supported the Afghan Northern Alliance against the Taliban government in Kabul, making the ideologically close IMU and Taliban natural allies.Noah Tucker, “Violent Extremism and Insurgency in Afghanistan: A Risk Assessment,” United States Agency for International Development, August 14, 2013, 5, https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00JSSQ.pdf. The Taliban supported the IMU financially and allowed the group to set up training camps in northern Afghanistan in the late 1990s from where it attacked Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257. The Taliban also allowed the group to open political offices in Kabul, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-Sharif and accept recruits.Ahmed Rishad, “They’re Only Sleeping,” New Yorker, January 6, 2002, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/01/14/theyre-only-sleeping. The IMU pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar when the U.S.-led alliance invaded Afghanistan in 2001.“Pakistan’s ‘Fanatical’ Uzbek Militants,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27801257. The two organizations spent the next 13 years assisting each other and coordinating attacks against NATO and Afghan government security forces.

However, with the rise of ISIS, the IMU began to drift away from the Taliban. In September 2014, IMU Emir Usman Ghazi announced that he was siding with ISIS in its fight against the Taliban and fully pledged allegiance to the organization in August 2015.Damon Mehl, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 6 (June 2015), 11, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2015/06/CTCSentinel-Vol8Issue610.pdf; Merhat Sharipzhan, “IMU Declares It Is Now Part of the Islamic State,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 6, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/imu-islamic-state/27174567.html. Following this, the Taliban launched a major military campaign against IMU strongholds, killing its emir and largely wiping out the group.Jacob Zenn, “The IMU Is Extinct: What Next for Central Asia’s Jihadis?,” Central Asia Caucus Analyst, May 3, 2016, https://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13357-the-imu-is-extinct-what-new-for-central-asias-jihadis?.html.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan

Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) and the IMU’s relationship dates back to Tahir Yuldashev’s tenure as IMU’s emir from 1998 to 2009. As Emir, Yuldashev forged close ties with both TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud. Following Yuldashev’s death in 2009, new IMU Emir Abu Usman Adil maintained this relationship, meeting with senior TTP leaders and local Pashtun tribal supporters and featuring TTP’s emir and other members frequently in IMU videos. This includes the first footage of TTP’s trainer of suicide bombers—Qari Hussein Mehsud, who was himself taught by IMU chief cleric and spokesmen Abu Dher al-Barmi at the Jami‘at Faruqiya Islamic university in Karachi.Christopher Anzalone, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan: Down but Not Out,” Foreign Policy, November 20, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/20/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-down-but-not-out/.

The IMU and TTP have coordinated closely in carrying out violent attacks on Pakistani and NATO security forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan. For example, on May 18, 2010, IMU, al-Qaeda, and TTP militants carried out a suicide bombing against NATO forces in Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base, killing one American and wounding nine others.Hamid Shalizi, “Afghan Taliban Launch Brazen Attack on Bagram Base,” Reuters, May 18, 2010, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-afghanistan-attack/afghan-taliban-launch-brazen-attack-on-bagram-base-idUKTRE64I0KV20100519; Christopher Anzalone, “Al Qaeda Loses Bridge to the West,” Foreign Policy, January 28, 2011, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/28/al-qaeda-loses-bridge-to-the-west/. On April 15, 2012, approximately 150 IMU and TTP fighters attacked the Bannu prison in Pakistan, freeing nearly 400 militants, including TTP commander Adnan Rashid.“Militants Attack Bannu Jail, Nearly 400 Inmates Escape,” Dawn (Karachi), April 15, 2012, https://www.dawn.com/news/710704/militants-attack-bannu-jail-400-inmates-escape; Christopher Anzalone, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan: Down but Not Out,” Foreign Policy, November 20, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/20/the-islamic-movement-of-uzbekistan-down-but-not-out/. On June 8, 2014, 10 IMU and TTP militants besieged the al-Jinnah international airport in Karachi, Pakistan, resulting in 29 people being killed, along with all 10 attackers.“Karachi Airport: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Claims Attack,” BBC News, June 11, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27790892; “TTP,” Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, July 2018, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan.

ISIS

In September 2014, IMU Emir Usman Ghazi announced that he was siding with ISIS in its fight against the Taliban and fully pledged allegiance to the organization in August 2015.Damon Mehl, “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Opens a Door to the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 8, no. 6 (June 2015), 11, https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2015/06/CTCSentinel-Vol8Issue610.pdf; Merhat Sharipzhan, “IMU Declares It Is Now Part of the Islamic State,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 6, 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/imu-islamic-state/27174567.html. The IMU joined ISIS-Khorasan forces in northern Afghanistan, first fighting jointly against the government and then against the Taliban.“TTP,” Mapping Militant Organizations, Stanford University, July 2018, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/tehrik-i-taliban-pakistan.

Rhetoric

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Abu Dher al-Barmi, September 30, 2011

“America invaded Pakistan ten years ago, and that’s when we started jihad against America, against the occupiers, against the system in Pakistan, against the armed forces of Pakistan, and this jihad will continue, Allah willing.”Bill Roggio, “IMU Cleric Urges Pakistanis to Continue Sheltering Jihadis in Waziristan,” Long War Journal, November 23, 2011, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/11/imu_cleric_urges_pak.php.

Abu Dher al-Barmi, September 30, 2011

“Our objective is to enforce Allah’s system in Allah’s universe.”Bill Roggio, “IMU Cleric Urges Pakistanis to Continue Sheltering Jihadis in Waziristan,” Long War Journal, November 23, 2011, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/11/imu_cleric_urges_pak.php.

Unidentified IMU Member, December 30, 2007

“[T]ribesmen would bring in the [Pakistani] soldiers for the mujahideen to slaughter. Thus avenging the death of innocent boys and girls killed during the Lal Masjid attack.”Qandeel Siddique, “The Red Mosque Operation and Its Impact on the Growth of the Pakistani Taliban,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), October 8, 2008, https://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/08-01915.pdf.

Tahir Yuldashev, July 2007

“We consider them [Lal Masjid] a part of us before, during and after the [siege]… their shaheed [martyrs] are our shaheed... their prisoners are our prisoners.... every member of the Harakat [i.e. IMU] will stand up against the terrorist act that took place on Lal Masjid. ... After Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan ranks 3rd in the [jihadi operations] launched on its territory. We will always be a part of these activities.”Qandeel Siddique, “The Red Mosque Operation and Its Impact on the Growth of the Pakistani Taliban,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), October 8, 2008, https://www.ffi.no/no/Rapporter/08-01915.pdf.

Tahir Yuldashev, September 2006

“We appeal to all Moslems... in the light of the event that dramatically changed world politics five years ago, on September 11, 2001. A strike at America, the fortress that had considered itself impregnable, changed politics throughout the world... Bush launched a war on Afghanistan.”“Leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Tahir Yuldashev Threatens Presidents Karimov, Bakiyev, and Rakhmonov,” Ferghana News, September 13, 2006, https://enews.fergananews.com/articles/1595.

Tahir Yuldashev, September 2006

“The mujahedin haven’t forgotten the Moslems executed in Andijan last year. We will avenge Moslems in Central Asia or in Russia. We insist that all regimes in the region put an end to the practice persecution of Moslems, the practice of harassment and terror... Karimov, Rakhmonov, and Bakiyev had better remember... that they will be punished for the crimes they are committing.”“Leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Tahir Yuldashev Threatens Presidents Karimov, Bakiyev, and Rakhmonov,” Ferghana News, September 13, 2006, https://enews.fergananews.com/articles/1595.