Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

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Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

LEADERS: Jumaboi Ahmadzhanovitch Khojaev; Tohir Abdouhalilovitch Yuldeshev

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Uzbekistan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Kazakhstan; Turkmenistan; the Xinxiang province in China


In 1998, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) officially announced its goal to overthrow the Uzbek government and replace it with an Islamic state. However, as the group continued its activities with financial assistance and training from Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the IMU developed a larger goal. In 2001, the group issued its new goal and new name: the Islamic Party of Turkistan, which sought a pan-Islamic, Central Asian state that would include Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the Xinxiang province in China.


The primary goal of the IMU was the militant overthrow of the Uzbek government, which would be replaced by an Islamic state. This goal derives from the post-cold war history of Uzbekistan. Much of the group's initial activities were centered on the removal of President Islam Karimov's regime. In 1991, after the demise of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan declared its independence. Islam Karimov, who was First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in 1989 and later appointed President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990, won the presidency by popular vote in the country's first election. His first term was extended by a referendum and, in 2000 he was once again elected for his final term as President. However, in 2002 an additional referendum ensured his office until 2007. Human rights organizations question the validity of these elections.

In 1991, after Karimov's first election, the IMU began to organize, although it would take several more years to become an official organization. In December 1991, future IMU leaders, Tohir Abdouhalilovitch Yuldeshev and Jumaboi Ahmadzhanovitch Khojaev, led a group of unemployed Muslims to capture the communist party headquarters in the eastern city of Namangan. The men demanded land for a mosque to be built. Both Yuldeshev and Khojaev, who later changed his name to Namangani, were members of the Uzbekistan branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). Feeling disillusioned by the IRP's refusal to demand an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, Yuldeshev and Namangani formed a splinter group called Adolat (Justice), and called for an Islamic revolution. By 1992, President Karimov had declared Adolat illegal, which resulted in the group fleeing to Tajikistan.



Jumaboi Ahmadzhanovitch Khojaev served as a Soviet paratrooper fighting against the mujahideen (fighters) in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. During this time, he developed respect for the mujahideen that he was fighting and this renewed his interest in his faith, Islam. Following his involvement in the war, Khojaev changed his name to Namangani to honor his hometown. Namangani returned to Uzbekistan after the war fully committed in his indoctrination to Wahabism, a fundamentalist view of Islam. After losing faith in the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) in Uzbekistan, Namangani co-founded a splinter movement called Adolat, dedicated to the creation of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. In 1992, Adolat was declared illegal and Namangani fled to Tajikistan where he fought with the United Tajik Opposition in the Tajik civil war. Namangani remained in Tajikistan until coming to Afghanistan in 1998 where he and Yuldeshev founded the IMU.

During his fighting in the Tajik civil war and continuing with his activities with the IMU, Namangani developed a reputation as a charismatic leader and effective tactician. In August 1999, Namangani led 800 militants into southern villages in Kyrgyzstan and held residents hostage for a ransom. In August 2000, he led incursions into southern Uzbekistan. In November 2001, Namangani was sentenced to death for his involvement in the February 1999 bombing campaign in Tashkent, Uzbekistan that killed sixteen people. However, he is believed to have died during a U.S.-led bombing raid in Afghanistan in 2001.


Tohir Abdouhalilovitch Yuldeshev was an unemployed college dropout when he led a group of like-minded militant Islamists to storm the communist party headquarters of Uzbekistan in 1991. Following his disappointment with the IRP, he co-founded the group Adolat with Namangani, and he served as a mullah for the underground Islamic movement. When Adolat was banned from Uzbekistan, Yuldeshev traveled throughout Central Asia creating alliances and finding financial support for his Islamic revolution movement. After creating the IMU in 1998, Yuldeshev obtained Taliban permission to establish a training camp in northern Afghanistan, where he is believed to still reside. Yuldeshev is considered to be more of a religious and political leader than a military leader.

Tajikistan, in 1992, was on the brink of a civil war. As a result, Yuldeshev and Namangani parted paths. Yuldeshev moved to Afghanistan and began to establish ties throughout the Middle East. He visited Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, and received both sanctuary and funding from Islamic groups in these countries. During 1995–1998, Yuldeshev received assistance from the Pakistani intelligence service while residing in Peshawar. In addition, he met with Chechen rebel leaders during the 1994–1996 Chechen war. Yuldeshev's travels not only established alliances throughout the region, but also created underground cells of Adolat throughout Central Asia.

Namangani, on the other hand, fought in the Tajik civil war and created a reputation for himself as a fierce fighter and charismatic leader. In 1997, the civil war came to an end with a ceasefire, which Namangani initially refused to accept. With prodding, Namangani accepted the ceasefire and settled into life in the village of Hoit. There, he became involved in heroin trafficking. He also began to attract others who were unhappy with the Tajik ceasefire. The drug trade financed his group of growing supporters.

By 1998, Yuldeshev had settled in Kandahar as a guest of the Taliban and had made alliances with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader. Namangani relocated to Afghanistan with his supporters, and in 1998 the group announced the formation of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The group used Afghanistan as its base of operations for activities against the Uzbek government, and by 1999 the IMU began an orchestrated series of campaigns against the Karimov regime.

The aggressive campaign to overthrow the Uzbek government would include bombings and kidnappings, and be funded mainly through drug trafficking. In February 1999, an assassination attempt on President Karimov failed. However, a campaign of car bombings that same month in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent resulted in sixteen deaths. In August, the group kidnapped eight Kyrgyzstan soldiers and four Japanese geologists, who were held until a ransom was paid. In August 2000, four U.S. mountain climbers were taken hostage by the group. The mountain climbers were held for six days before finally escaping.

Prior to October 2001, the IMU aimed activity primarily at Uzbek targets. However, by mid-2001, the group began to broaden its goals. By June, the group renamed itself the Islamic Party of Turkistan and issued its new objective of a pan-Islamic state covering Central Asia. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the IMU fought alongside the Taliban against coalition forces in Afghanistan. In November, both Yuldeshev and Namangani were tried in abstentia for their involvement in the 1999 Tashkent bombings, which killed sixteen people. They were both sentenced to death. However, Namangani was believed to have been killed in a U.S.-led bombing campaign of Afghanistan in late 2001.

In addition to fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan, IMU members began operations throughout Central Asia. The IMU claimed responsibility for explosions in the Kyrgyzstan city of Bishkek in December 2002 and in Osh in May 2003, which killed eight people. Also in May 2003, Kyrgyzstan security forces foiled an attempt by IMU operatives to detonate bombs at the U.S. Embassy and a U.S.-owned hotel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. On July 29, 2004, the IMU executed a series of suicide car bombs in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, causing much damage and many deaths. The first car bomb exploded at the Prosecutor General's office, killing two and injuring four. The next suicide car bomber attacked at the Israeli embassy, killing three and injuring one. The final suicide bomber attempted to strike the U.S. Embassy, but failed and caused only minor damage to the building. However, the bomb killed two bystanders. The Uzbek government originally blamed the group, Hizb-ut-tahir, which was committed to the creation of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan through nonviolent methods. Hizb-ut-tahir denied involvement and the IMU claimed responsibility.

The IMU continues to operate under the leadership of Yuldeshev and with the guidance of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. However, the group's use of militant activities has declined under the leadership of Yuldeshev, who is considered more of a political philosopher in contrast to the military leader, Namangani. The group continues to control drug trade and to traffic heroin to pay for its operations and is believed by U.S. intelligence to operate out of the Ferghan Valley—the region where Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek borders converge.


In the beginning, Namangani and Yuldeshev were disillusioned by the lack of action on the part of the Islamic Renaissance Party. Both men ascribed to Wahabism, a fundamentalist sect of Islam that calls for strict adherence to Islamic law and seeks the creation of an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. As the group established itself and its alliances throughout Central Asia, the IMU decided on a different goal, the creation of a pan-Islamic state that would include Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and the Xinxiang province in China.

To reach these goals, the IMU used three tactics: creation of alliances, control of drug trade, and armed activities. Before the official creation of the IMU, both of its leaders, Namangani and Yuldeshev, developed alliances. While Namangani fought in the Tajik civil war, he developed a following of supporters. Yuldeshev, on the other hand, traveled throughout Central Asia and created alliances and underground cells of his group Adolat in areas such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. However, the alliance with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda would define the group and help to establish its wider goal for Central Asia.

To fund its activities, the IMU relied on its involvement in the drug trade, as well as its alliances. Namangani established control of the heroin trade during his residence in Tajikistan. In 2001, the Kyrgyz director of the secret service revealed that the IMU controlled most of the drug trade in the region. The U.S. State Department also noted the IMU control of and participation in the trafficking of heroin from Central Asia.

From its inception, the IMU has advocated the militant overthrow of the Uzbek government. As such, it has claimed responsibility for a series of violent attacks in the region. It began its activities with a carefully orchestrated car bomb attack in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. This attack killed sixteen people, which resulted in death sentences for both Namangani and Yuldeshev. In addition, the group arranged kidnapping operations, providing ransom funds to assist in funding other operations. Once the IMU established its pan-Islamic goal, it joined its activities to support al-Qaeda and its fight against the coalition forces in Afghanistan.


The IMU goal of a militant overthrow of the Karimov regime was enhanced by President Karimov's decision to help the United States in its fight against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. However, a human rights watch group issued a report documenting the Karimov regime's oppressive activities. It alleges that under Karimov, over 7,000 prisoners, mostly Muslim, have been tortured and mistreated. As a result of these revelations, both the United States and the European Bank for Reconstruction have cut previously promised financial aid, citing slow progress toward democratic reforms. This has done little to quell the anti-Western sentiment in the region.


IMU declared its goals.
IMU attempted to assassinate President Karimov.
Car bombing campaign in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, killed sixteen people.
IMU kidnapped eight Kyrgyz soldiers and four Japanese geologists.
IMU held four U.S. mountain climbers hostage for six days until they escaped.
IMU announced its goal to create a pan-Islamic state in Central Asia.
Leaders Namangani and Yuldeshev were convicted for their involvement in the February 1999 car bombing campaign in Tashkent and sentenced to death.
IMU claimed responsibility for bombing that occurred in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
IMU claims responsibility for bombing that occurred in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyz security forces foiled a bombing attempt on U.S. interests in Kyrgyzstan.
Three suicide car bombers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, killed seven and injured eight.

The IMU seeks more than the expulsion of Western interests from the region. It desires an Islamic state that would strictly adhere to a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law. According to Ahmed Rashid, the IMU, like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, seeks an Islamic state "not as a way of creating just society but simply as a means to regulate personal behavior and dress code for Muslims—a concept that distorts centuries of tradition, culture, history, and even the religion of Islam itself."


The IMU began as a group of militant Islamist seeking an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. As a result of its alliances with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the group has devised a larger goal of a pan-Islamic state covering Central Asia. The group engages in armed conflict and kidnappings in an effort to reach this goal. The IMU also controls much of the heroin trade in the region to fund its activities. In 2001, the group fought alongside al-Qaeda in Afghanistan against coalition forces. During this time, one of its leaders, Namangani, is believed to have been killed. However, its armed activities have continued. The group is now believed to have 500 to 700 members throughout Central Asia. Its current leader, Yuldeshev, is believed to be in the Ferghan valley of Afghanistan.

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)


The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is a group of Islamic militants from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states. The IMU is closely affiliated with al-Qa'ida and, under the leadership of Tohir Yoldashev, has embraced Usama Bin Ladin's anti-U.S., anti-Western agenda. The IMU also remains committed to its original goals of overthrowing Uzbekistani President Karimov and establishing an Islamic state in Uzbekistan.


The IMU in recent years has participated in attacks on US and Coalition soldiers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and plotted attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Central Asia.

In November 2004, the IMU was blamed for an explosion in the southern Kyrgyzstani city of Osh that killed one police officer and one terrorist. In May 2003, Kyrgyzstani security forces disrupted an IMU cell that was seeking to bomb the U.S. Embassy and a nearby hotel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The IMU was also responsible for explosions in Bishkek in December 2002 and Osh in May 2003 that killed eight people. The IMU primarily targeted Uzbekistani interests before October 2001 and is believed to have been responsible for five car bombs in Tashkent in February 1999. IMU militants also took foreigners hostage in 1999 and 2000, including four U.S. citizens who were mountain climbing in August 2000 and four Japanese geologists and eight Kyrgyzstani soldiers in August 1999.


Probably fewer than 500.


IMU militants are scattered throughout South Asia, Tajikistan, and Iran. The area of operations includes Afghanistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.


The IMU receives support from other Islamic extremist groups and patrons in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.



Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002.


"IMU Controls Drug Traffic to Central Asia." Pravada. May 30, 2001.

Haven, Paul and Katherine Shrader. "U.S., Pakistan Exploit Rifts within Factions of al-Qaeda." Ottawa Citizen. May 11, 2005.

Web sites

Center for Defense Information. "In the Spotlight: IMU." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

Council on Foreign Relations. "Uzbekistan." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

Foreign and Commonwealth Offices. "Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

Monterey Institute of International Studies. "Islamic Movement of Uzbeckistan." 〈〉 (accessed October 19, 2005).

Audio and Visual Media

Weekend Edition: NPR. "Interview: Martha Brill Olcot Discusses Terrorism in Uzbekistan." April 4, 2004.

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