IMU Arrest in Europe

by Nathan Hamm on 5/20/2008 · 4 comments

Police in the Netherlands, France, and Germany arrested 10 men suspected of financing the IMU. Early reports indicated that they were financing the Islamic Jihad Union, not the IMU. As Spiegel reminds readers, the IJU is more familiar to Germans, and a paragraph’s worth of ink is spilled to clarify the differences between the two.

The IMU and IJU have common roots, but they are two different organizations. The IJU is ideologically in line with al-Qaida, also operates out of the Afghan-Pakistan border area and nowadays has an international jihadi agenda. The IMU, however, has more regionally-based goals, namely the establishment of an Islamic theocracy in central Asia and the overthrow of the regime of Uzbek President Islom Karimov.

I find it pointless to spend too much time trying to differentiate between the IMU, IJU, IMT, and the perhaps now-forgotten Jamoat. As Ian pointed out last year, journalistic attempts to describe the differences between and genealogies of these groups is common. The effort paints the wrong picture of the groups. The goals the IMU announced back in its Namangani days quite evidently offer little guidance to the group’s current activities. By most accounts, Tohir Yo’ldosh and his band of exiled jihadists kicks about in Pakistan’s tribal areas providing security for Al Qaeda, doing the odd bit of jihad for three hots and a cot, running the occasional jihad workshop, and taking responsibility for some of the Turks and post-Soviets who show up. And if I were to wager, the only link between the various IJU, Jamoat, and IMU members arrested at various times in Uzbekistan and Europe and the IMU in Pakistan is that the latter provided some training and support at one time. They don’t necessarily — and probably do not — have the same list of priorities.

This is far from mere hair-splitting. I think that it is accurate to call all the foreign Islamists who live in or have passed through Pakistan’s tribal areas part of one large social network. There are ties that bind, but it is far from clear that there are hierarchical links. This is important because the moment one slaps the label “IMU” on a group of guys arrested in Western Europe, you know that the Uzbek embassies will pounce on the opportunity so generously placed before them.

It would be nice if police and journalists were a little more cautious from the get-go with this kind of news. Groups in the Al Qaeda orbit cannot be crammed so nicely into their own boxes. Nowadays, it seems that despite the formal name and affiliation, all of the groups are to some degree affiliated with one another and cross over into doing each others’ work. For whatever reason, they’re finding this synergy useful. After all, why send out a group of fundraisers to just solicit IMU donations when everyone can pool efforts and have them ask for donations to the general fund?

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Nick May 20, 2008 at 3:58 pm

“I think that it is accurate to call all the foreign Islamists who live in or have passed through Pakistan’s tribal areas part of one large social network. “

The arrests also suit the agenda of those who claim that Europe is an Islamist free-for-all where theocratic nutters are allowed to wander around willy-nilly shaking the bucket for terrorists. This is a popular line spouted by autocratic regimes who are none to fond of domestic opposition, especially the Islamist kind.

Moreover, there are also questions to be raised about to what extent these arrests are the product of EU-Uzbekistan cooperation and, if these suspects were not actually involved in plotting terrorist attacks, and nor were the funds being raised to support terrorist attacks, why they were arrested?

One of the accusations made by the Uzbekistani government against the murdered journalist Alisher Saipov was that he was channelling funds for the IMU.

Joshua Foust May 20, 2008 at 7:45 pm

For whatever reason? It’s a pretty obvious one: temporary collaboration yields much better results than working purely in isolation. That’s a pretty standard procedure for extremist groups—like how various Palestinian organizations trained with IRA factions.

More interesting, I think, is how this further cements the interconnectedness of the terrorism problem. The goings-on in Pakistan’s tribal areas have implications not just for Afghanistan, but for the rest of Central Asia and Europe, too.

Nick May 21, 2008 at 6:11 am

Josh: ‘temporary collaboration yields much better results than working purely in isolation.’

Agreed – it is as if terrorists have their own version of the ‘harmony of interests’, in which groups originally acting alone and out of self-interest come to recognize the benefits of co-operation and shared responsibilities. However, I think this is far from the Islamist ‘Grand Alliance’ proposed by the more extreme GWoT boosters.

However, I often wonder that if terrorists are unlikely to score significant hits against the regime in Uzbekistan, will they therefore focus their attention abroad e.g. Uzbekistani embassies, and perhaps – more controversially – governments perceived to be friendly towards the Karimov regime? I wouldn’t be surprised if this was something European police forces and security analysts are considering.

Joshua Foust May 21, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Agreed, it is a simple aligning of interests and opportunity, not some secret international muslim death zombie movement. Our war boosters can be imaginative, and tend to draw from works of fiction much more often than I’m comfortable with.

I bet you they’re considering just that. Although, it could also be analogous to IRA boosters and fundraisers in the U.S.: supportive of a terrorist organization, yes, but also non-violent. If that makes sense. That is, if they really only did fund raising and not really attack planning.

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