of a former Uzbek spy who fled to Britain this week after accusing President Islam Karimov of personally ordering massacres has sparked heated reactions across Central Asia, with the intelligence agencies of both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan offering contradictory assessments of his allegations and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) also weighing in.
Ikrom Yakubov, who says he is a former major in the National Security Service (SNB) and once reported directly to Karimov, applied for asylum in London on September 4, sources tell RFE/RL. He had been sharing his story with RFE/RL for several weeks from a secret location abroad before fleeing to Britain on September 1, fearing for his life.
Among other allegations, Yakubov accuses Karimov of directly ordering military officers to fire on protesters in the city of Andijon in 2005 and engineering a plane crash that killed UN official Richard Conroy in 2004. He also says Karimov is in cahoots with IMU leader Tahir Yuldash -- his alleged enemy -- and is guarded by an elite force led by Mahmud Khudaiberdiev, a former Tajik colonel who also led the bloody crackdown in Andijon, according to Yakubov.
Yakubov's accusations have sparked a flurry of commentary on Internet forums across Central Asia. Some posters have called him a national hero. Others have denounced him as an "Uzbek Aleksandr Litvinenko" who could end up like the Russian security-service defector mysteriously murdered in Britain in 2006.
Threats Against Family
In an e-mail apparently sent from a British facility for asylum seekers on September 5, Yakubov told RFE/RL that he had received an e-mail threat. The sender vowed to track him down and get revenge, Yakubov said. "Today we spoke to your dad and told him you must shut up," he quoted the e-mail as saying.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on September 4, SNB spokesman Olimbek Toraqulov dismissed Yakubov's claims as "slander," adding that "There is not any fact that would be worth commenting on. There is nothing logical."
Tajik intelligence officials say Khudaiberdiev's presence in Uzbekistan is well-known.
However, in interviews with the Uzbek Service, two high-ranking officials in neighboring Tajikistan's intelligence service begged to differ. "Everyone in Tajikistan knows that Mahmud Khudaiberdiev is in Uzbekistan and is close to President Islam Karimov," one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
The other unidentified official said Tajikistan has long had information that Khudaiberdiev's elite force led the crackdown on protesters in Andijon.
Regional media reported in 2001 that Khudaiberdiev had been killed in a car accident, but those reports were never confirmed. Last April, Tajik officials announced that they had issued an arrest warrant with Interpol for Khudaiberdiev, accusing him of launching a coup attempt in 1998 in northern Tajikistan from Uzbek territory.
Meanwhile, the IMU appears to have denied Yakubov's allegations about the organization, which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist group.
In a phone call to the Uzbek Service, a person calling himself an IMU spokesman denied that Yuldosh collaborates with Karimov. He also rejected another claim by Yakubov -- that Yuldosh was behind the murder of Juma Namangani, adding that Yuldosh's former IMU co-leader was killed in an air strike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001.
Yuldosh is now believed to be in command of a pro-Taliban force of unclear size operating in Pakistan's tribal areas.RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah and Uzbek Service correspondent Alisher Siddikov contributed to this report