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Islamic State Flag Hung From Tashkent Bridge

The flag of Islamic State was hung on a bridge in Tashkent.
The flag of Islamic State was hung on a bridge in Tashkent.

Uzbek police have questioned dozens of people in an attempt to discover who hung the black flag of the Islamic State militant group from a bridge in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

RFE/RL confirmed from multiple sources in Uzbekistan that the flag was hung from a bridge in Tashkent's Yunus-Abad district early on August 28, just days before the country marked Independence Day.

The flag remained there for several hours and was reported to police later in the morning, after which it was immediately removed and an investigation was launched.

Police have questioned street cleaners, traders at a nearby bazaar, taxi drivers, and students at a girls' Islamic school in the area.

Since a series of bombings in Tashkent on February 16, 1999, Uzbek authorities have cracked down on the slightest hints of Islamic extremism and those charged with membership in, or support of, extremist groups are punished severely.

There was a spelling mistake in the Arabic word for "Allah," possibly indicating the person responsible for making the flag was not familiar with Arabic script.

Arabic script has not been officially used in Uzbekistan for some 80 years.

There are Uzbeks among Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq.

One Uzbek national calling himself Bekobadiy (from the Bekobad district in Tashkent) recently sent a statement to RFE/RL claiming Islamic State had already chosen an "emir" for Uzbekistan, though Bekobadiy did not reveal the emir's name.

Uzbek authorities are increasing concerned about extremism as foreign forces in Afghanistan implement their drawdown, due to be completed at the end of this year.

Another domestic Uzbek militant group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), is active in Afghanistan and Uzbek officials fear the group will seek to destabilize Uzbekistan.

The IMU staged incursions in Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000 but was in Afghanistan in late 2001 when U.S. forces chased the Taliban from power. The remnants of IMU forces escaped to Pakistan and over the years recruited new members.

More recently many Uzbeks and others from Central Asia have gone to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State.

At the end of August there were reports the leader of the Islamic State militant group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had appointed a Tajik national to be the "emir" of Raqqa, the largest Syrian province under control of the militants.

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