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12 Apr, 2007 20:40

200 Uzbek gunmen killed in Southern Wazaristan last month

200 Uzbek gunmen killed in Southern Wazaristan last month

A Pakistani military official has said that last month up to 200 Uzbek gunmen were killed in clashes with a tribal militia in the Southern Wazaristan province. The gunmen reportedly belonged to a terrorist organisation “Islamic Movement of Uzbekista

Pakistan's army officials say a local tribal militia called Lashkar have been fighting Uzbek gunmen in Wana Valley for over a month, killing up to 200 fighters. These claims are impossible to prove and have left most observers in doubt about what really happened.

“At the moment Lashkar is going against the Uzbeks in the area,” Major General Gul Muhammed of the Pakistan armed forces said, “As for the estimates, to be honest, there are no concrete figures. We would say about 150 to 200 have been killed in this combat”.

Tensions between local tribes and the Uzbeks began to escalate late last year, but it was in early March this year when fighting broke out in the region, triggered by the assassination of two brothers of a local tribal leader.

The gunmen, killed in the South Wazaristan province, reportedly belonged to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an Al-Qaeda-linked militant group. Its leader is Tahir Yuldashev, who is also known for close ties with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In 1991 Yuldashev along with his ally Juma Namangani founded a movement called “Adolat”, or “Justice”, which proposed an Islamic revolution in Uzbekistan.

“After the collapse of the Soviet communism in the developing world people started to look into the past. They tried to find roots for justification of struggle for social justice in Sharia law, in Islamic norms or in purified version of Islam,” Rustem Safronov, political analyst, said.

After “Adolat” was banned by Uzbekistan`s president Islam Karimov in 1992, its leaders fled to Tajikistan and later moved to Afghanistan. Yuldashev began a networking odyssey around the world's Islamic states, visiting Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

In 1996 the organisation became known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, and is now considered to be one of the most dangerous terrorist organisations in the world. Its power base reportedly lies in the Ferghana Valley, a region in the Tian Shan mountain ranges, spreading across eastern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is proved to be a fertile recruiting ground for the IMU, whose main goal is to overthrow the Uzbek government and establish an Islamic State. The movement is also involved in drug smuggling in Central Asia, using the profits to finance further operations.

Eight years ago, it organized a series of car blasts in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, which killed 16 people and wounded dozens. Three years later, in 2001, one of the IMU's co-founders, Juma Namangani, was killed in Afghanistan during an American air strike in the Kunduz province.
But, being well-funded, the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan poses a great threat to the whole of Central Asia, suggesting that only joint efforts may prevent further attacks.