Tashkent disowns US attacker
Uzbekistan’s government has rapidly disowned the Uzbek immigrant was accused of killing eight people in the New York lorry attack this week.
President Shavkat Mirziyoev said the government would use “all its resources” to help investigate the Manhattan attack but the country’s severe repression of religious freedom for its largely Muslim population is being put under increasing scrutiny. It was at least the fourth overseas attack this year blamed on an Uzbek.
Isis has also claimed that Uzbeks were responsible for some of its most high-profile suicide bombings in Iraq.
Uzbekistan claims its policies have wiped out domestic radicalism at home, arguing that this week’s 29-year-old attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, like other Uzbeks accused of terrorist attacks this year, was radicalised overseas.
“I don’t believe the conditions exist inside the country for these Uzbeks to have been radicalised,” said Abdulaziz Mansur, deputy head of Uzbekistan’s Muftiat, which oversees Islam in the former Soviet republic.
“The Uzbek youth who are carrying out these types of attacks, killing innocent people in foreign countries, they believe in the wrong ideas. They’ve been poisoned with false ideas by groups related to Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and other countries.”
All clerics need government approval, madrasahs are government-controlled and beards, like the one grown by Saipov, are outlawed in Uzbekistan.
Much of the crackdown originates with the state’s response to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the 1990s, which sought to establish a caliphate in Central Asia and launched several attacks.
Former dictator Islam Karimov’s secret police was accused by human rights groups of severe repression, including boiling people alive, and many IMU members fled to neighbouring Afghanistan and the lawless Pakistani border in the 2000s to fight alongside the Taliban against the US invasion.
Facing repression and poor job prospects, millions of Uzbeks have emigrated in recent years, especially to Russia. An estimated 2 million Uzbek migrants now live in Russia, where they do construction, road maintenance and other labour-intensive work.
“I think that fact of migration is relevant to this [terror] case and the other cases,” said Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch.
The group said that since Mirziyoev assumed the presidency in September 2016, “the Uzbek government has released at least 16 political prisoners, relaxed certain restrictions on free expression, removed citizens from the security services’ notorious ‘black list,’ and increased the accountability of government institutions to citizens”.
Islam remains heavily controlled in Uzbekistan. Picture credit: MaxPixel