February 16, 1999 | Car bombs in Uzbekistan

As the #1 terrorist threat worldwide, Islamist extremists attack more countries than many realise.

As the #1 terrorist threat worldwide, Islamist extremists attack more countries than many realise.

TODAY IN TERRORISM — In the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union most people – I would wager – had to learn the names of a whole slate of ‘new’ countries. A whack of nations in Central Asia had been known to very few as the world saw them merely as part of the amorphous Soviet empire. With the fall of the super state these lands became independent nations.

Many of these newly created states had one interesting thing in common: their predominant language was akin to Turkish (linguists call the tongues that make up this group Altaic languages). The nations in question are: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (Tajikistan is also in the mix but the national tongue is akin to Farsi (Persian), an Indo-European language).

But that was not the only thing in ‘common’.

Image result for central asia
Photo: By Afrogindahood – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

As these countries dealt with independence their trajectories were uneven. Former Soviet apparatchiks often simply stayed in power under the pretense they were now ‘popularly-elected’ leaders thanks to free and fair elections that were neither free nor fair.

Interestingly, freedom from the Soviet yoke also ushered in violent extremist movements. These actors may in fact have always been around but any attempts at action were ruthlessly suppressed. With the change in governance some of these groups were able to (re)launch terrorist campaigns.

One such group was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which dates back to 1991 (just after the fall of the wall). Initially focused on bringing ‘Islamic law’ to Uzbekistan, the IMU was banned by the Karimov government and ended up in Afghanistan which it used as a base. It has been more or less defunct since 9/11.

Car bombs in Uzbekistan

On this day in 1999, however, the IMU is believed to have been behind six car bombs that were detonated in the Uzbekistan capital city Tashkent, killing sixteen and wounding 120 people. The terrorists apparently were seeking to assassinate Uzbek President Karimov.

So whither IMU? That is not clear. Nevertheless, it is never a good idea to declare a terrorist group dead. In this way they tend to channel their own Mark Twain, rumours of whose death were……..

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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