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Uzbekistan Detains 21 Suspected Members Of Banned Islamist Militant Group

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry says it has detained 21 suspected supporters of a banned Islamist militant group that has been functioning in Syria.

The ministry said in a February 19 statement that the suspects were "ideologically influenced" by a 23-year-old Uzbek man identified as A. Shodibekov. Their identities were not disclosed.

The statement said the suspected planned to financially support and join militants from a group called Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Brigade of the Monotheism and the Holy War).

Uzbekistan banned Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad as a terrorist organization in 2016.

The Interior Ministry says the suspects were detained after police searched their homes and found "evidence proving" their links with the Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad.

It said the detained suspects are also suspected of taking part in terrorist training exercises.

Authorities in the predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic have said that thousands of Uzbek citizens have joined different Islamist militant groups in Syria and Iraq in recent years.