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New threats from Jamaat Ansarullah hollow, observers say

By Nadin Bahrom

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Jamaat Ansarullah militants are shown in Afghanistan March 4. [YouTube screenshot]

DUSHANBE -- A Tajik militant group based in Afghanistan recently published videos containing threats against Tajikistan that it cannot back up, analysts say.

After a long dormancy, Jamaat Ansarullah (JA) on March 4 began posting videos on its website and on YouTube, openly vowing to overthrow the Tajik government.

The videos show JA militants training and using military equipment, as well as boastful members conducting interviews.

Doubts about JA's power

Observers are less than awed by the videos and by JA's known numerical strength.

These postings are nothing more than an attempt to show JA's fangs, said Dushanbe-based security analyst Rustam Latifov.

"They've been threatening to attack Tajikistan for a long time," he told Caravanserai. "We haven't heard about their activities except for the attacks [in 2010] in Rasht and Khujand [Tajikistan]."

The videos amount to proof of life, said Latifov.

JA hardly has the manpower to threaten the Tajik state, according to a survey of Central Asian militant groups published in January by the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

JA "has less than 100 militants, and a majority of them are ethnic Tajiks from Tajikistan and Afghanistan", according to Nodirbek Soliev, author of the survey, who added, "JA is now attempting to re-organise itself under the Taliban and step up its fight against Afghan government forces in the northern provinces of Afghanistan."

"Their goal ... is to topple the [Tajik] government," Rustam Azizi, deputy director of the Dushanbe-based Centre for Islamic Studies, told Caravanserai. "But you can't say they are capable of fighting Tajikistan head on. Our army is ready for combat."

"Taking into consideration their numbers, [ousting the Tajik government] is not possible" for JA, a Tajik Interior Ministry (MVD) official who requested anonymity told Caravanserai.

"[JA] works under the Taliban's control and are very dependent on them," Dushanbe-based political scientist Farkhod Muminov told Caravanserai. "Our authorities are well informed about their activities ... and ready to hit them hard if need be."

Short history of JA

JA, which has been declared illegal in Tajikistan since 2012, owes its origins to the 1992-1997 Tajik civil war. The conflict ended with a peace treaty that some diehard insurgents did not accept. They moved to North Waziristan, Pakistan, in 1997 before gradually drifting into Afghanistan under the command of Amriddin Tabarov.

The group always has espoused the goal of imposing a "caliphate" by force in Tajikistan.

JA has fought alongside the Taliban throughout its existence in Afghanistan but has had little perceptible impact in Tajikistan. Tajik authorities accuse it of committing two terrorist acts, both in September 2010: the suicide car bombing of a Khujand police station, which killed three police officers, and the ambush of an army convoy in the Rasht Valley, which left 25 troops dead.

Tajik forces killed Mullo Abdullo, the accused leader of the Rasht Valley ambush, in Rasht in April 2011.

Afghan forces killed Tabarov, JA's commander, in the summer of 2015 in Badakhshan Province, Tajik Interior Minister Rakhim Rakhimozoda said in January 2016, according to Interfax.

New leader

The recent online activity of JA might result from the post-Tabarov succession, the anonymous MVD official told Caravanserai.

JA "designated Mavlavi Salmon, son-in-law of [Tabarov], as the leader in December 2016", said the MVD official.

Salmon has a history of braggadocio that might figure in the current JA propaganda offensive. In May 2015, he released a video threatening to assassinate Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Tajik Islamic Renaisssance Party leader Mukhiddin Kabiri, as toptj.com reported at the time.

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