Accessibility links

Breaking News

An Extremist Link Between Tajikistan, Waziristan

RFE/RL's Tajik Service has been tracking a shadowy figure who may be a key link between Pakistan's tribal region and Central Asia, and at the same time a person who may prove the evolution of one of Central Asia's most notorious terrorist groups.

His name is Domullah Amriddin, and as the first part of his name suggests he is more than a mere mullah, he is an Islamic scholar. He was also a member of the Islamic wing of Tajikistan's opposition during the 1992-97 civil war. And like other former civil war fighters who have been in the news in Tajikistan often lately, Domullah did not agree with the peace deal the Tajik government and opposition reached in 1997.

Domullah wanted to continue fighting and turn Tajikistan into an Islamic state. There were wartime allies -- Uzbeks -- who were forming their own group with a similar goal for Uzbekistan. They became the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Domullah joined them.

When IMU members were deported from Tajikistan to Afghanistan in late 1999, Domullah was aboard the Russian Border Guard helicopters that transported them south, part of a desperation deal the Tajik government struck with the IMU to get them out of Tajikistan. Also on one of those helicopters was IMU leader Juma Namangani.

Namangani and Domullah were in Afghanistan's northern Konduz Province in November 2001 when the United States bombed the area, decimating IMU forces there and killing Namangani. As the story goes, Domullah was so high up in the IMU by that time that there was talk of making him the new leader. But as military specialist Amrullo Sobir told RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Domullah was not suited to head the IMU because "the leader should be an Uzbek."

"So," he said, "the Islamic Movement of Turkestan was created."

The existence of the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT) -- under which Turkestan refers to the swath of land from the Caspian Sea to the eastern borders of Xinjiang Province in modern-day China -- has been debated for years. There have been reports out of Pakistan that said after the IMU was chased, now leaderless, from Afghanistan into Pakistan the group split into three groups. The IMU remained, although stuck and fighting in Waziristan, committed to overthrowing Uzbekistan's government and also remained a core Uzbek group.

The Islamic Jihad Union widened its scope and set its sights on areas as far away as Europe. Several members of that group were arrested in Germany for plotting terrorist attacks. The IMT stayed focused on Central Asia and attempted to broaden its membership among the peoples of Central Asia, including not only Uzbeks and Tajiks but also Kyrgyz, Uyghurs, and other indigenous peoples of the region. At least that is what the small amount of information available on these groups and their recent movements indicates.

According to information coming out of Tajikistan, including that of Tajik military specialist Sobir, Domullah is responsible for sending Mullo Abdullo, another ally from the Tajik civil war days and friend of the IMU, to eastern Tajikistan in 2009. Tajik security forces have been chasing Mullo Abdullo through Tajikistan's eastern mountains ever since. In the course of the hunt close to 100 Tajik servicemen and police have been killed, including the 28 killed in an ambush in September. Tajik authorities blame Mullo Abdullo, for the ambush.

Sobir said Domullah and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar are close and that together the two probably made the decision to send Abdullo north.

Domullah's name had not come up for some time. While these tales could be dismissed as pure conjecture it is also true that there are no credible sightings of Mullo Abdullo or Mullah Omar recently, yet Tajik authorities are searching for Abdullo and Pakistani and Afghan authorities for Mullah Omar.

-- Bruce Pannier