Kyrgyzstan: Officials Making a Terrorism Case or Just Sowing Panic?
Kyrgyzstan’s security officials are not the most convincing bunch. So when they go on a media blitz warning of impending terrorist attacks, we naturally start asking for evidence and bracing for some sort of blast. This time, they are worrying Osh, scene of fierce ethnic fighting that left over 400 dead in June.
Speaking on state television on December 20, Keneshbek Dushebayev — director of Kyrgyzstan’s KGB-successor, the recently renamed State National Security Committee — reiterated a familiar refrain: Terrorists wish “to turn the Central Asian region into a blazing torch of destabilization for the entire world.” He did not produce any evidence.
This would not seem unusual coming from a Central Asian security boss seeking international sympathy, but a week earlier Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who prompts panic merely by opening his mouth, suggested the city is swarming with terrorists who are ready to blow up a bridge, a government building, or a kindergarten.
Myrzakmatov has repeatedly tried to link Islamic militants to the summer’s ethnic violence. As ethnic Uzbeks tend to be more religious than their Kyrgyz neighbors, between the lines Myrzakmatov is again pushing the idea — widely held in nationalist circles — that Uzbeks are responsible for the violence.
Surprisingly, he also said the Islamic terrorists lurking in the hills are the same radicals responsible for the 2005 Andijan massacre in neighboring Uzbekistan, when security services murdered hundreds of their own citizens, according to human rights groups.
For good measure, the mayor added that “militants are recruiting women and young people from the poorest sections of the population to carry out specific actions.”
Central authorities in Bishkek question links to Andijan. Nikolai Soldashenko, a deputy interior minister, responded that “we do not have this kind of information and the situation in the region is under control.” Soldashenko, however, acknowledged that Kyrgyz police had uncovered a weapons cache in a small village in Osh province. A day later, Kyrgyz police reportedly found rifles and explosives in one of Osh’s Uzbek-populated neighborhoods. The police arrested two suspects, one of whom is reportedly an Uzbekistani national, state television reported.
In late November, a shoot-out in Osh and a mysterious explosion in Bishkek rattled the country. Security officials, led by Dushebayev, unconvincingly tried to link the events to Islamic terrorists, leading believers — again mostly Uzbeks — to fear a new round of repression, à la the era of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose April overthrow helped set off this year’s cycles of violence and instability.
Following Myrzakmatov’s warning, Osh officials are taking a number of preventative measures before the New Year’s holiday, including banning public celebrations and fireworks (the later certainly makes sense in a shell-shocked city). But some measures are more frightful: On December 14, police arrested an Osh imam and charged him with recruiting young people for terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Interfax reported. And Governor Sooronbai Jeenbekov instructed regional authorities to “increase explanatory work among people about nonconformist religious sects” after some local officials said that Hizb-ut-Tahrir would carry out terrorist acts. Hizb-ut-Tahrir has never been linked to any violence, but is the region’s default scapegoat and banned in all Central Asian countries.
The most peculiar development here is the attempt to link would-be terrorists in Osh to the 2005 Andijan events. Why? Perhaps Mayor Myrzakmatov wants to secure Tashkent’s approval and cooperation in security operations. He has recently claimed he supports President Islam Karimov’s view that the Osh events were organized by outside forces. Unlike Karimov, however, Myrzakmatov has famously opposed all calls for an international inquiry into the Osh events.
We know Myrzakmatov is no fan of Bishkek (and vice versa). Maybe he’s looking for a sponsor?