CENTRAL ASIA SPECIAL REPORT: Former Islamic Fighter Recounts Life in Training Camp.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 18 December 2001

A former fighter for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which seeks to overthrow the rule of Uzbek president Islam Karimov, has told Keston News Service how his religious studies were transformed into studies in a military camp training to "fight for Islam". Speaking to Keston News Service on 30 November in one of the villages of southern Kyrgyzstan, the young ethnic Uzbek (Keston cannot disclose his name for obvious reasons, but it is known to the editor) said he had lived in IMU training camps in Tajikistan between November 1997 and May 1998 after being sent there by his teacher in an underground madrassah (Islamic school). As there is very little information about the life of IMU fighters, the former fighter's story could provide a better understanding of the type of person that forms the backbone of this movement.

The IMU was born of the Adolat (Justice) movement, which was formed in 1991 in one of the regional centres of Uzbekistan's section of the Fergana valley, the city of Namangan. Members of Adolat formed something like the Iranian "guardians of the Islamic revolution".

 Young people wearing green armbands appeared in the most unexpected parts of the town, and dealt as they saw fit with those who they felt had broken the law. The punishment for the thieves and prostitutes they captured was rather bizarre from a western point of view: they were sat back to front on an ass and led around the town, and tied to pillars on town squares, while passers-by spat in their faces. The accused were also beaten with whips in the mosques. Takhir Yuldashev and Djuma Namangani became the undisputed leaders of this "Islamic police". The Uzbek authorities were quick to crush the Adolat movement. Its supporters were arrested and received lengthy prison sentences. However, Yuldashev, Namangani and several of their supporters managed to flee from Uzbekistan, founding the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan while in exile.

Yuldashev based himself in Afghanistan, where he found a protector in the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Gradually, Yuldashev managed to transform the IMU into a well-organised and efficient army. One section of the IMU military encampments were on Taliban-controlled Afghan territory, and another section was in the Karategin valley of Tajikistan (the mountainous border with the Pamir district of the republic). During the civil war in Tajikistan (1989-1996), IMU fighters fought for the Tajik opposition. Namangan became first deputy to the most influential field commander of Karategin region (now minister of the Special Situations Ministry of Tajikistan) Mirzo Ziyeyev. In August 1999 and in August 2000 IMU fighters made attempts to break through from Tajikistan into Uzbekistan and create an Islamic state there. In autumn 2000, at the insistence of Dushanbe, IMU fighters left Tajikistan for Afghanistan. Currently, IMU fighters are battling alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. Last year, the US State Department designated the IMU as an international terrorist organisation.

Here, in shortened form, is the account by the former fighter: "I was born in 1973 in one of the villages of southern Kyrgyzstan. I am Uzbek by nationality. In 1997 I was a very devout believer and regularly went to study Islam with a particular mullah. But my parents did not understand me and laughed at my beliefs. Then my teacher advised me to move to Uzbekistan and learn about Islam there in one of the underground madrassahs. So I went to the Uzbek city of Margelan [in the Uzbek section of the Fergana valley, 10 kilometres from the regional centre of Fergana]. I spent some time studying in a local underground madrassah, and then my new teacher told me that he was sending me and another six pupils to study in [the Uzbek capital] Tashkent. The teacher told us that to save money, we were to travel to Tashkent on foot across the mountains. We were given a guide and set off on our way.

"On our third day of travel, the guide told us that in fact we were going to Tajikistan to fight for Islam. He also told us that we were now being given new names, and that we should forget our old ones. We were astonished, but did not argue, as under Islam arguing with one's teacher is a grave sin. We were taken to a disused seismological station in Tajikistan, a few kilometres from the city of Tajikobad [a district centre in Karategin valley, Tajikistan]. The seismological station had been turned into a well kept military encampment. Djuma Namangani met us there and congratulated us on having become 'soldiers of Islam'.

"The daily regime in the camp was as follows: physical education in the mornings, followed by instruction in how to use various types of weaponry. In the evenings we were shown films about Islam. We were only allowed to read religious literature. We were not allowed to listen to music, as that is a sin for Muslims. We also listened to Radio Liberty broadcasts in Uzbek: we were not allowed to listen to other radio programmes. We were treated well, and were constantly told that both the leaders and rank-and-file fighters were brothers, and that all of us had been given the great honour of freeing Uzbek Muslims from the rule of non-believers.

"After two months we were told that we had passed a 'young fighter's course' and that we were now being transferred to another camp. We were sent to a camp near Tavildoro [a district centre in Karategin valley, a few dozen kilometres from Pamir]. At this camp, two foreigners, the teacher Abilbaba from India and Sheikh Abas from Pakistan, taught us sabotage work. They were very experienced mujahaddin. Abil'baba had previously fought in Kashmir, while Sheikh Abas had fought against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

"In the evenings we were shown films about those regions of the world where Muslims fight against non-believers. We were told that it was the duty of Muslims to fight until they had freed Muslims throughout the world from the rule of non-believers. But I had already had enough of living in an army encampment. The food got worse every day, and life was boring and monotonous. I started to ask them to let me go home for two weeks of leave. Finally, in May [1998] I was allowed to leave the camp. I have not gone back yet." (END)