By Maksim Yeniseyev
IMU mufti Abu Dher Azzam is shown in a video posted February 10. [Screen shot by Maksim Yeniseyev]
DAMASCUS -- Members of the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are expressing disillusionment with the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
In a sign of disunity among terrorists, the IMU is urging Muslims in Central Asia to reject the propaganda of ISIL commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Now the IMU is vowing to fight ISIL, which operates in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.
Another militant organisation comprised predominantly of Uzbekistanis and ethnic Uzbeks from other countries, the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, which used to fight alongside ISIL in Idlib Province, Syria, swore allegiance to the Taliban July 19, as Caravanserai reported earlier.
Whatever atrocities the warring militants may visit on each other, Uzbekistani analysts see no danger to Uzbekistan's national security.
"Today isn't 1999," Tashkent-based political scientist Valerii Khan said, referring to a year of several deadly terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan. "The IMU ... doesn't have a leader, resources or developed media operation."
"It's unlikely to have more than 100 members," he said. "Today the IMU is just a brand. [Authorities] have shut down its activity in Uzbekistan."
The IMU was founded in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1996 by Uzbekistani extremists who fled their homeland in 1993. The Uzbekistani public always rejected it.
IMU members fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan alongside the Taliban.
IMU's casualties were high, as coalition forces relentlessly hunted down its members and kept killing its emirs. In 2012, Usman Ghazi became the fourth emir in the IMU's short history.
"Ghazi was born in 1970 in Tashkent," Tashkent-based terrorism analyst Viktor Mikhailov told Caravanserai. "He ... moved to Tajikistan at age 30, where as an IMU member he learned the basics of terrorism."
Ghazi made the fateful decision in August 2015 to align the IMU with ISIL Khorasan Province, the ISIL operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The news infuriated the Afghan Taliban, the IMU's former ally, which trapped the IMU in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, and decimated it in a battle last December 11.
Since then, Ghazi's fate has been unknown to the outside world.
A long silence by the IMU ensued, broken only on June 14 by a tweet from men who called themselves surviving IMU members.
The self-identified IMU survivors announced their break with ISIL, tweeting, "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is no caliph of the Muslims; he's only the leader of ISIL ... We are fewer than before, but we will continue our activities."
"After a year in ISIL, I saw the group commit many evil deeds, like killing Muslims without any evidence," IMU mufti Abu Dher al-Barmi, also known as Abu Dher Azzam, said in a video posted on YouTube in August. "My brothers in Central Asia, do not heed my [previous] pro-ISIL words."
The IMU is not the only terrorist organisation with ties to Uzbekistan to break with ISIL.
In mid-July, the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, a predominantly Uzbek militant group in Syria, announced its own rift with ISIL. It said it was siding with the Taliban.
Uzbekistani authorities are monitoring the IMU from afar but say the border with Afghanistan is too secure for the IMU to breach. They keep a sharp eye for any activity by IMU recruits already inside Uzbekistan.
The defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria will bring an end to the group in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia -- where security forces are ready to deal with any new challenges, analysts say.
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