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Kyrgyzstan: Prominent Imam Killed In Security Raid

Imam Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin was strident in his criticism of Hizb ut-Tahrir, but officials claim he was a member of the IMU (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, August 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A prominent religious leader known for allowing Islamic radicals to pray alongside other worshippers at his mosque in southern Kyrgyzstan has been killed in a security raid.

Muhammadrafiq Kamalov -- also known as Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin -- had defended his practice of allowing suspected members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir to worship at his mosque the town of Kara-Suu. Muslims should pray for the "misguided" rather than turn them away, he said.

But authorities are describing Kamoluddin in death as a member of an Islamist terror group.

Official Version Of Events

A National Security Service official said today that the imam of Kara-Suu's Al-Sarahsiy Mosque was killed late on August 6 on the outskirts of the nearby city of Osh.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Bishkek today, Nurbek Tokbaev said the counterterrorism raid was conducted in cooperation with security services from neighboring Uzbekistan.

Tokbaev described Kamoluddin as a "terrorist" and a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has been blamed for a number of violent attacks on government targets. He said two other alleged IMU members were also killed in a firefight with authorities.

"Around 10:30 p.m. on August 6, 2006, identified members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were squeezed out of a densely populated district of Osh in order to avoid casualties among peaceful civilians," Tokbaev said. "After that, officers of the Kyrgyz National Security Service attempted to stop the terrorists' white car, a Daewoo Nexia. However, the persons in the car did not follow [law-enforcement] demands and opened fire with automatic weapons. As a result of return fire, armed terrorists were destroyed by the National Security Service."

Tokbaev said the operation was based on "reliable" intelligence on the presence in Osh of three people from "the IMU militant group."

He did not elaborate on the other two men's identities beyond saying that they were Tajik citizens. But he said all three of the dead men were involved in a May border incident in southern Kyrgyzstan that claimed several lives in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Tokbaev alleged that the "group of militants" was preparing to carry out a series of terrorist attacks in Kyrgyzstan. He inventoried items that officials claim Kamoluddin and the others had in their vehicle.

"When they searched their car, [security forces] found one AK-SU Kalashnikov automatic rifle, three full magazines, 266 cartridges, four RGD-5 hand grenades, one F-1 grenade, one RPK automatic rifle magazine, a road map of Uzbekistan where a number of locations were marked with the word 'jihad,' one pair of army binoculars, extremist religious literature in the Kyrgyz and Uzbek languages, and fake passports," Tokbaev said.

Popular Imam

Kamoluddin headed a mosque where up to 10,000 people gathered for Friday prayers. He was prominent not only in southern Kyrgyzstan, but also in neighboring countries.

His popularity was based in part on his stance over the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group. Kamoluddin allowed members of Hizb ut-Tahrir to pray in his mosque. Yet he was also highly critical of the group, which seeks to establish Islamic rule through a caliphate.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL in May, Kamoluddin made his stance clear.

"Firstly, I am not a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. I don't read their literature, and don't want to [read it]," Kamoluddin said. "There have been offers made to my family -- to my sons and daughters -- from Hizb ut-Tahrir, but I strictly forbid them [from joining]. But I also do not support the view that Hizb ut-Tahrir are terrorists, enemies of the government, or enemies of the people. And to those who say they aren't Muslims -- they are Muslims. They are a particular group, but they want Islam and they serve Islam."

Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir frequently came to his mosque from neighboring countries -- including Uzbekistan, which has jailed the highest number of suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

Official Distrust

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan, where Hizb ut-Tahrir is outlawed, had questioned Kamoluddin several times in the past.

On May 24, Kamoluddin was reportedly detained and questioned by National Security Service forces. He said the officers told him they had evidence of his links to militants behind a deadly cross-incursion into Kyrgyzstan in May. Kamoluddin denied any links to the incident.

Security sources reportedly told him that a book by Kamoluddin, with his telephone number on the cover, had been found in the possession of militants. Kamoluddin had expressed surprise to a regional news agency,, at being implicated in wrongdoing solely on the basis of a phone number scrawled on a book. He was released after questioning on May 25.

Abdulla Yusupov is with a nongovernmental group called the Committee to Protect Revolution. He told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Jalal-Abad that he thought the imam's death must have been a tragic mistake.

"I believe his killing was a mistake by the [National Security Service] officers," Yusupov said. "We knew this person very well. He was the main imam of the Kara-Suu mosque. In his mosque, I never noticed anything terrorist -- that went against the government or the people."

An RFE/RL correspondent in Kara-Suu who saw Kamoluddin's body today confirmed that there were at least four bullet wounds. He said the family planned a burial service for Kamoluddin this evening, in keeping with Islamic practice.

He also said there were already hundreds of mourners gathering at Kamoluddin's home to pay their final respects.

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