A court in Khujand, Tajikistan's second-largest city, has found 11 men guilty of belonging to the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) group. Two of the convicted men had sought to fight in Syria, according to the BBC's Russian service.
The IMU was formed in 1998 with the aim of toppling the Uzbek government and founding an Islamic state based on Shari'a law in its place. The group is outlawed in Tajikistan.
The 11 men were arrested in September together with another 40 suspects. According to the indictment, all of the 11 men who were convicted on December 19 had lived for long periods in Russia.
Two of the men, named as Mansur Boboyerov and Eldardzhon Khotamov, had allegedly planned to travel to Syria and fight in militant groups. Flight tickets were confiscated from the two men when they were arrested in September, according to the indictment.
The CA-News site, citing the Tajikistan-based TojNews outlet, said that the men were sentenced to between 9 and 19 years in prison.
CA-News named Boboyerov as the ringleader of a local cell called Jundullah, which was linked to the IMU. According to the report, Boboyerov, who is from the town of Panjakent in Sughd province, was sentenced to 19 years in a corrective labor colony with a strict regime.
Tajiks in Syria
The State Committee for the National Security of Tajikistan said in November that there are around 300 Tajik citizens fighting in Syria.
However, the Tajik Interior Ministry has said that around 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria and that around 50 had died.
Edward Lemon of the University of Exeter, who tracks Tajik fighters in Syria, told RFE/RL that he has found online evidence of 52 Tajik fighters in Syria.
The President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, recently referred to Islamic State as "the plague of the new century and a global threat."
Rahmon warned that Tajiks should "not underestimate the negative role of Islamic State in Tajikistan" and called on citizens to "not be indifferent, and to counter this global threat."
Concerns over the threat posed by the Islamic State group in Central Asia were heightened after the regional militant Islamist IMU expressed its sympathy for Islamic State in September.
On September 26, IMU leader Usman Gazi published an online statement declaring the group was in "the same ranks with Islamic State in this continued war between Islam and [non-Muslims]. The Islamic State [group] is free from a patriotic or nationalist agenda...you can see Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Russians, and many English-speaking Muslim [foreign fighters] in its ranks."
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on October 2 that it had received a statement and earlier audio recording from IMU leader Usmon Ghazi, in which the group commented on Syria.
In the wake of that report, RIA Novosti cited an Uzbek security source as saying that Tashkent authorities had "operational video and audio information about the IMU's support and participation in joint military actions on the side of IS units." The source said that the IMU had stepped up its recruitment and training in the Afghanistan and Pakistan regions.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk