Uzbekistan prepares for counter-terrorism operations

By Maksim Yeniseyev


Uzbek law enforcement personnel last August in Tashkent demonstrate their counter-terrorism skills. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan, though fortunately free of terrorist acts since 2004, is preparing for the worst. That year, a number of gunmen and suicide bombers committed fatal attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara.

The government is taking various steps if the country's long freedom from terrorist violence ends, on the presumption that no security plan is perfect.

On May 24, it passed a law regulating the payment of compensation to citizens who suffer injury or loss of property during counter-terrorism operations. Relatives of innocent citizens who are killed in such battles will be entitled to compensation as well.

Preparing for the worst

Tight security preparations have kept Uzbekistan free of the violence it suffered in 1999 and 2004. However, authorities are taking no chances.

On May 14, police officers gathered in Tashkent for a conference on fighting terrorists and extremists.

Less than a month later, on June 9, a court in Samarkand Province convicted six defendants who had been planning to join the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in Syria.

"The risk of terrorist attacks is very small," Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan told Central Asia Online, pointing to the absence of terrorist acts in Uzbekistan since 2004. "However, our new law focuses on prevention ... This kind of work nullifies terrorists' efforts."

Compensation for collateral damage

Understanding that a counter-terrorist operation could lead to unintended property destruction, injury and loss of life, the government May 24 enacted a resolution to compensate citizens for such losses.

That law applies to "any damage caused to individuals or organisations at the hands of Uzbekistani law enforcement or military personnel carrying out counter-terrorism operations", Cabinet of Ministers spokesman Mansur Shofaiziyev told Central Asia Online.

The government will pay the "market value of property destroyed in such operations", Shofaiziyev said. "A commission will review applications for damages within 15 days [of the incident]."

"Harm to people's health will be recognised too," he said. "Civilians who suffer injury during a counter-terrorism operation have the right to free medical care. If someone is accidentally killed, his or her relatives will receive compensation."

"Besides that, injured parties have the right to sue for compensation," he said, citing less tangible results like emotional distress.

Terrorists are not entitled to compensation under the new law.

Grateful for government's acknowledgment

Uzbekistani citizens welcome the government's willingness to acknowledge that things could go wrong in a security operation.

"I'm glad that the government concerned itself with the need to pay damages," Oibek Abdullayev, a Tashkent resident, told Central Asia Online. "I've heard that in other countries people in that situation spend a long time in court."

Terrorist recruitment continues

Authorities have been able to prevent terrorist atrocities within Uzbekistan for more than a decade. However, recruiters are still duping some Uzbekistanis into joining ISIL.

"On June 9 in Payaryk District, Samarkand Province, a court convicted six defendants who had been planning to join ISIL in Syria," Interior Ministry (MVD) spokesman Samvel Petrosyan told Central Asia Online.

"The defendants ... received prison sentences ranging from six to nine years," Petrosyan said. "The only woman received a suspended sentence."

Sharing expertise

Law enforcement agencies recognising the danger that never goes away are sharing their experiences.

One example was a May 14 Tashkent conference that the MVD hosted, Petrosyan noted.

The conference focused on "urgent issues in the struggle against extremism and terrorism", Petrosyan said.

MVD employees and MVD Academy students attended the workshop. They discussed matters like laws on fighting terror financing and recruitment, he added.

"The participants developed tactical recommendations on fighting extremism and on informing the public about extremism that will be put into practise," Petrosyan added.

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