KARACHI: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants are lethal, ruthless and faceless and physically fitter than the TTP militants. The officials, who examined the bodies of the 10 terrorists killed in Karachi Airport Old Terminal Attack, indicated that appeared Uzbeks and Chechens. On Sunday night of June 8, the target of these militants was the Old Terminal of Karachi Airport. An important member of the ground combat team told The News that siege lasted more than four hours.
On Tuesday, propaganda wing of IMU - Jundullah Studio – released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. The statement was addressed by its chief Usman Ghazi. This “martyrdom operation” was carried out to avenge the recent bombings by Pakistani fighter jets in Waziristan, said the IMU statement. Jundullah Studio released photographs of those 10 militants who attacked the Old Terminal.
According to the Inter Services Public Relations, air strikes on terrorists’ hideouts in North Waziristan Agency killed 60 hardcore terrorists including some important commanders and foreigners.
This was not the first time that IMU carried out attack in Pakistan. On May 22, 2011, four foreign terrorists attacked the PNS Mehran at Shahrah-e-Faisal. They destroyed two P3C-Orion surveillance aircraft of the Pakistan Navy, while one was damaged. In this attack, 10 security personnel were also killed. All four attackers were either killed or blew themselves up. After more than a year, militants’ media released the video of those four attackers. They were all Uzbeks.
More than 100 militants attacked Bannu Jail on April 15, 2012 and nearly 400 inmates freed. Some of them were hardcore terrorists, including Adnan Rasheed — convicted for Dec 2003 attack on Musharraf’s cavalcade near Rawalpindi. Uzbek fighters played a vital role in the Bannu jailbreak. Jundullah Studio released the video of the attack, showing large number of Uzbek militants among the assault team. Even the cameraman, who filmed the entire episode, was an Uzbek.
Former member of Pakistan Air force, Adnan Rasheed later became chief of Ansarul Aseer, a militant wing of the TTP, established to free militant prisoners.
After eight months of interval, on Dec 15, 2012 militants attacked Bacha Khan International Airport, Peshawar. Ten militants initially fired rockets at the airport followed by a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device blast. Five militants were killed, while trying to penetrate in the airport. The remaining five attackers were gunned down by the security forces. In this attack, four people lost their lives.
Later, on July 30, 2013 dozens of militants stormed Dera Ismail Khan Jail and freed more than 170 prisoners. Most of them belonged to the outlawed TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. At least 12 people including four policemen were killed in this jailbreak. Uzbek militants actively participated in this attack also.
There are several commonalities in these five attacks. All these assaults started on Sunday nights, except the Peshawar Airport which was on Saturday. The attackers wore joggers and were equipped with same weaponry like RPG, hand grenades and AK-47. In PNS Mehran, Peshawar and Karachi Airport attacks, terrorists also wore suicide belts. And in all these five attacks Uzbek fighters belonging to the IMU participated.
According to the Foreign Military Studies Office, a research and analysis centre for the US Army, the IMU was established by Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani in 1998. Research paper author Matthew Stein writes that “when racketeers demanded protection money from business owners in 1989-90, they formed a protection group “Adolat” - an Uzbek word meaning justice. Tahir Yuldashev, a young mullah, emerged as an important leader in Adolat alongside Juma Namangani.
When Yuldashev became the group’s ideologue, Adolat took on more religious tilt.”“In December 1991, Adolat occupied the local Communist Party headquarter, which prompted a visit from the then head of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, Islam Karimov, who later became President of Uzbekistan. In early 1992, the government of Uzbekistan banned and cracked down on the group. A number of IMU members fled to Tajikistan and some reportedly to Afghanistan, including Yuldashev. Namangani… (and) became involved in the Tajik Civil War (1992-97). After the Civil War ended, he became involved in drug trafficking. Yuldashev met up again with Namangani in 1997 and together they formed the IMU in 1998,” Stein said.
They declared “jihad” against the governments of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Their ultimate goal was to overthrow these governments and establish an Islamic State.The IMU and Afghan Talibans are likeminded groups, having the same goal of establishing Shariah. In the late 90s, Tahir Yuldashev established ties with Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In 2000, IMU militants tried incursion in various areas of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Numbers of these fighters were killed and the rest moved to Afghanistan.
After moving to Northern Afghanistan, Yuldashev took an Islamic oath of loyalty to Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar. Juma Namangani was killed in Afghanistan in Nov 2001. His death left Yuldashev solely in command. After 9/11, Tahir Yuldashev moved to Pakistan’s Fata region. In 2007-08, with the backing of Pakistan Army, Mullah Nazir expelled hundreds of Uzbek militants from his tribal territory.
During the clash, hundreds of Uzbek militants were killed, while the rest moved to Waziristan. On August 27, 2009 Tahir Yuldashev was killed in a drone missile attack in South Waziristan. His deputy Abu Usman Adil became new IMU head. Like his predecessor, Usman Adil was also killed in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle attack in April 2012.
According to The Long War Journal, Adil was credited for increasing the IMU’s profile in Pakistan and Northern Afghanistan after Yuldashev’s death.
Usman Adil developed strong ties with the TTP. After the elimination of Adil, his second-in-command, Usman Ghazi took control of the IMU. He is currently heading the Uzbek militant group as its third ameer. IMU built good relations with the TTP and now has sanctuaries in Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. Both militant groups have joined hands to launch deadly attacks in Pakistan.
Intelligence reports say that TTP have strong presence in parts of Karachi. The head of Counterterrorism Unit of CID Sindh, Raja Umar Khattab says that the attackers of Karachi Airport Old Terminal came from nearby area and TTP provided them hideouts. “They were residing close to their target”, he said. After the IMU’s credit of responsibility about Karachi Airport attack, the TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid confirmed that “it was joint TTP-IMU raid.”
Comparing the PNS Mehran and Karachi Airport Old Terminal attacks, Khattab said that in the former assault, terrorist achieved their target by destroying two P3C-Orion aircraft but in latter, they failed.
A senior intelligence official, requesting anonymity, said that Uzbek militants were experts of taking hostages. “They have carried out number of successful kidnapping operations in the late 90s in Uzbekistan.”
Khattab said that the law enforcement agencies did not find data of foreign militants in the National Alien Registration Authority.Likewise, their DNA remains of no use because of unavailability of any such record.