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IMU Announces Longtime Leader Dead, Names Successor

  • Bruce Pannier

Tahir Yuldash, leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), reportedly died a year ago.

Tahir Yuldash, leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), reportedly died a year ago.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) says its charismatic leader, Tahir Yuldash, is dead.

The IMU announced on its website,, that Yuldash was slain exactly one year ago, according to the Islamic calendar (on the sixth day of Ramadan 1430) or on August 27, 2009, by the Western calendar.

He is believed to have been killed in a predator drone strike in Pakistan's tribal area near the Afghan border. The website said Yuldash died along with several of his supporters and published what it said were photographs of him both alive and dead.

But as is the case with many militant leaders who have connections to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, reports of their deaths are difficult, if not impossible, to verify.

The IMU's new emir, Usmon Odil, described Yuldash's death in a recording posted on the website, saying he was killed "after the midday Friday Prayers" on August 27, 2009, in Pakistan's South Waziristan region.

Early Years As Islamist

A close ally of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Yuldash was the key figure in the Islamic insurgencies that roiled Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and much of Central Asia in the 1990s. He also fought in Afghanistan and survived U.S. bombing raids there following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

What is said to be a photo of Yuldash after his death
Shortly after Uzbekistan won its independence following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Yuldash and childhood friend Jumaboi Khojaev helped found the Islamic organization "Tovba," (Generation) in their native city of Namangan.

Tovba tried to implement a form of Shari'a law in Namangan in the early 1990s. But during a visit to the town by President Islam Karimov in December 1991, Yuldash attempted to lecture the Uzbek leader on good governance during a meeting with citizens. As a result, Yuldash and Khojaev found themselves on a government list of potential troublemakers.

Both then fled the country for neighboring Tajikistan in 1992, where a civil war was starting. They joined an Islamist group, the Islamic Renaissance Party, which was fighting a government comprised mainly of former Soviet officials.

Yuldash's story becomes vague at that point. Some accounts say he traveled to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, improving his knowledge of Islam. Khojaev, who served with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, remained in Tajikistan and became a formidable field commander.

Yuldash returned to Tajikistan as the civil war there came to a close in 1997.

Taking War To Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan

There, Yuldash reunited with Khojaev -- who had taken the alias Juma Namangani -- and the two set their sights on overthrowing the Uzbek government. They are widely believed to have funded their efforts by controlling a drug-trafficking route out of northern Afghanistan into southern Kyrgyzstan.

They hid in a base in the remote mountains of eastern Tajikistan, protected by allies from the civil war, and planned their return to Uzbekistan. Uzbek officials blamed them for a series of bombings targeting government buildings in Tashkent in February 1999.

In August 1999, some of their followers came down from the mountains into southern Kyrgyzstan and captured a small village, taking scores of people, including four Japanese geologists, hostage.

Shortly thereafter, Yuldash and Namangani issued a statement announcing that they were the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and were seeking to overthrow the Uzbek government.

Tahir Yuldash fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.
During the summers of 1999 and 2000, the IMU reached the peak of its influence. The group failed to overthrow the Uzbek government, but with Yuldash as spiritual leader and Namangani as military commander, the IMU insurgency caused a great deal of concern throughout Central Asia, particularly in the Ferghana Valley.

Fighting With Taliban

The IMU kept close ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, with both Yuldash and Namangani moving freely between Afghanistan and Tajikistan's Tavil-Dara region. They formally joined forces with the Taliban in the second half of 2001 for the final push against the troops of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, the last resistance to Taliban rule in Afghanistan at that time.

When the United States attacked militants in Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks, the IMU was in the northern Konduz Province. Namangani was killed and the group's ranks were decimated by U.S. bombing raids in November 2001.

Yuldash then gathered the remnants of the IMU and fled with them to the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border, where they able to find safe haven due to their ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Even though the IMU split into several factions and its numbers dwindled, Yuldash managed to keep a small core of the group together.

He was reported wounded in the tribal area in 2004. And in the years that followed, his death was reported several times -- including once last year. But as was the case with Namangani, there was never any physical evidence to prove once and for all that Yuldash was dead, just testimony from people in the area.

Today's web posting announcing Yuldash' death is the strongest indication yet that he has indeed been killed.

New Leader To Continue 'Jihad'

Little is known about the man announced as the new IMU leader, Usman Odil. His picture is posted on, but there is no biographical information available.

In an audio recording posted on the website, Odil blames the recent ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks as "a type of disgusting plot orchestrated by infidel governments against Muslims. And the victims are again ordinary Muslims -- women, old people, and children. May Allah give the Muslims a way to make the right conclusions and take the path of jihad."

Odil also indicates his path is the same as his predecessor, saying the group's "mujahedin" will "drive out the enemies of Islam from our shrines and lands that they occupied, to bring the oppressed Muslims to Islam's joyful life, Insha'Allah."

Odil says the IMU waited to confirm Yuldash's death because the group was busy fighting "in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan against the enemies of Islam."

Farruh Yusupov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report

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