TASHKENT -- Uzbekistani courts are participating in the country's fight against extremism.
A court in Namangan July 23 convicted seven Uzbekistani citizens of plotting to join the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) in Syria.
Namangan had a contentious history of extremist presence in past years, but security forces have calmed it. It was the hometown of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) co-founders Juma Namangani and Takhir Yuldashev (Yuldash). Namangani later died in Afghanistan; Yuldashev in Pakistan.
Hardships are befalling another Namangan native and militant commander, Salakhuddin, in Syria. Salakhuddin, born Akmal Jurabayev, commands the Imam Bukhari Jamaat (IBJ), a group of mostly ethnic Uzbek militants in Syria. In recent months, they have been questioning his leadership.
9 years for the ringleader
The seven would-be ISIL members are paying a stiff price for their decision, Arif Atajanov, a spokesman for the general prosecutor's office, told Caravanserai.
"They were [convicted] of planning to go to Syria," Atajanov said. "The leader and organiser, Mamayusuf Makhmudov, was sentenced to nine years."
The other defendants received sentences ranging from five to eight years, he said.
They all used social networks to communicate with ISIL recruiters and militants, Atajanov said.
Namangan, a generation ago, was an Islamist stronghold, Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai.
During the last years of the Soviet Union and first years of independent Uzbekistan, future IMU co-founders Namangani and Yuldashev led groups called Warriors of Islam and Tovba, Khan said. The local population mostly rejected them, but extremists were able to operate there for several years.
"After the defeat of the extremists in Namangan in 1993-1995, they fled to Afghanistan and founded the [IMU]," Khan said.
"Today Namangan is completely peaceful," Abdulrasul Mirzaazimov of Namangan, told Caravanserai, crediting hard work by the authorities.
A bad local influence
The seven Namangan militants might have fallen under the influence of Namangan native Salakhuddin. His militant force, IBJ, fights around Idlib and Aleppo, Syria.
The IBJ, which numbers possibly several hundred militants, mostly ethnic Uzbeks from several countries, has had a checkered ideological past. It used to fight alongside ISIL but swore allegiance to the Taliban in late 2014.
Salakhuddin/Jurabayev "was a comrade-in-arms of Namagani and Yuldashev", Tashkent journalist Artur Iskandarov wrote for the Uzbekistani website Antiterror Today in December 2014. "He joined the IMU in 1999. In 2011, he moved to Syria, where he later founded the IBJ."
He might also have spent time in Saudi Arabia before joining the insurgency in Syria.
Jurabayev has been wanted by Uzbekistani authorities since May 1998 in connection with charges of plotting to overthrow the government, according to the Interior Ministry (MVD).
However, his own militants might be losing faith in him, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported July 22.
"He is suspected of murder and espionage," its Uzbek service reported that day, citing sources inside the IBJ.
One member, Abu Yusuf, wrote to a comrade in correspondence reprinted by RFE/RL: "[Salakhuddin] and his wife have been serving the infidels ever since their time in Saudi Arabia."