Jihad in Kyrgyzstan?

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by Joshua Foust on 2/28/2012 · 5 comments

A previously unheard of group is declaring jihad against the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan:

Мы не хотим быть рабами и жертвами праведной ответной атаки иранских ракет! Уже 10 лет нашу родную землю топчет сапог американского солдата. Центральный аэропорт страны, носящий имя Великодушного Манаса, превращен в склад и базу захватнической армии. Армия, которая ведет войну против наших братьев мусульман в Афганистане и Ираке, готовит удар по Ирану и Сирии. Кыргызские джигиты, братья узбеки, уйгуры, дунгане, татары, чеченцы и ингуши, русские братья, мы все, сообща, должны выкинуть с нашей страны позорное ярмо”.

“We do not want to be slaves and victims of a justifiable Iranian missile counterattack! For 10 years, our native land was trampling under the boots of American soldiers. The central airport of the country, bearing the name of Manas the Generous, has been turned into the arsenal and base of an occupying army. The army that is waging war against our brother-Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, is also preparing a strike on Iran and Syria. Kyrgyz horsemen, Uzbek brothers, Uighurs, Dungans, Tatars, Chechens and Ingush, Russian brothers, all of us, together, must throw away our country’s shameful yoke.”

The group calls itself the “Muslim Resistance Committee of Kyrgyzstan,” and the group urges Kyrgyz workers at Manas to wage jihad on Manas by diluting kerosene, breaking equipment, poisoning food, and killing Americans (I cannot independently confirm that any of these things have actually happened yet). The Committee has issued an ultimatum to newly inaugurated president Atambaev: remove the Americans from Manas, or they will remove him from office.

Is it an interesting statement (full text here, in Russian), if only for being grounded in Atambaev’s own Iran-based fear of an attack on Kyrgyz territory. It is also part of a broader system of increasingly heated political rhetoric by politicians of all stripes in Kyrgyzstan.

But there also seems to be a growing consensus that there’s actually very little Muslim about the Resistance Committee. In the link above, Vesti.kg quotes several religious scholars who had never heard of this group before; it also has no known ties to international terrorism. Each religious scholar Vesti.kg quoted speculates that it is really a political group trying to oppose the American military base while couching its opposition in religious terms.

Last month there was a small rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek which demanded Manas be closed down immediately. Those rallies rarely seem to excite more than token interest from mainstream Kyrgyzstan, however.

Maybe this new Resistance Committee thinks it can get more attention if it couches its political demands in religious terms. There is a tendency to assign relatively banal or small scale incidents in Kyrgyzstan Religious Significance to establish a threat. The biggest downside to this, which the Resistance Committee might not realize, is that turning resistance to Manas into a jihad issue will not exactly make the U.S. military want to leave — rather, it will make the U.S. military want to stay even longer to make sure it has neutralized the “jihad threat.”

From a strategic perspective the Resistance Committee is not angling for success, in other words. Also? When Vesti.kg is the only outlet reporting on a group it’s fair to question if that group really exists or if it’s just an artifact of a letter writing campaign or some ominous internet postings. No one seems to know who or what this Resistance Committee is, save that it’s probably not worth paying attention to.

So no, there probably is not a new jihad threat in Kyrgyzstan. There probably is, however, a marginal political group desperately angling for relevance. Doesn’t sound quite so ominous now, does it?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Johnny Matrix March 2, 2012 at 1:28 am

Shit! Why couldn’t you let me know about this before I got here…oh well, just gotta bob n’ weave your way through I guess…anyways, if this is more of a nationalist approach they better be careful what they ask for…money train’s leaving.

Guy Fawkes March 2, 2012 at 9:33 am

Two forces might be in the play here and neither one of them is religious. One possibility is that Moscow is backing and financing some groups in the Kyrgyz government to disrupt American military base’s operations and eventually force them to leave. Another possibility is that this Resistance Committee is a disgruntled clan in the Kyrgyz government that has been marginalized in the deal with the American military base and they want a piece of the Manas pie, simple as that. By Kyrgyz standards you can make big and easy money doing business with the American military base and every crony or clan in the government wants a piece of the action. So there is infighting to monopolize the business relationship with the base and it seems like Resistance Committee got the short end of the stick. Which is why they are taking extreme measures to force other Kyrgyz power clans to let them in the action or else they will disrupt everything. Corruption by way of intimidation – one of the time honored traditions in Central Asia.

George March 3, 2012 at 3:43 am

Vesti.kg is a deeply unreliable source fond of publishing enigmatic, anti-American polemics.

jz adams March 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

This (below) would give them a raison d’etre, maybe its what they really would want though, no?

The biggest downside to this, which the Resistance Committee might not realize, is that turning resistance to Manas into a jihad issue will not exactly make the U.S. military want to leave — rather, it will make the U.S. military want to stay even longer to make sure it has neutralized the “jihad threat.”

Steven March 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Does anyone else find it strange that a supposed Kyrgyz Jihadist group is declaring Jihad in Russian?

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