- - Friday, January 20, 2012

BERLIN — German prosecutors last week charged an Afghani man with recruiting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — a case that underscores how the Central Asian radical group has become an international jihadist movement with links to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

“The IMU has become a much more pan-Islamic movement which includes not just Central Asians but also Uighurs from China, Chechens from the Caucasus, Dagestanis, even Turks,” said journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of “Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.”

“It’s recruiting people from all over the former Soviet Union, and now one or two of its splinter groups working more closely with al Qaeda are recruiting Europeans as well,” said Mr. Rashid, who lives in Lahore, Pakistan.

One of those accused of doing that recruitment is Omid H., a 22-year-old Afghani man who was arrested in Kassel, in western Germany, in July. He was charged Jan. 10 and faces a possible five-year sentence.

Prosecutors, who identify him as Omid H. because of German privacy laws, say he created 20 blog posts aimed at recruiting Germans for the IMU and al Qaeda.

Omid H. glamorized armed conflict against the “enemies of Islam” and promoted the murder of “non-believers” and participation in violent jihad, prosecutors say.

Louise Taggart, Eurasia intelligence analyst at the risk management firm AKE Group Ltd. in London, said this is in line with the message from the official IMU website, which “propagates not only terrorist activity in Central Asia but also global jihad ideals, as associated with al Qaeda cells.”

Analysts say that the IMU is known to be recruiting in Europe, and particularly in Germany, which has large Turkish and Kurdish communities. The group also is targeting Central Asians living abroad, such as migrant workers in eastern Russia.

The IMU was formed in 1991 in Uzbekistan with the aim of overthrowing regional secular governments that had gained independence from the Soviet Union and creating a Central Asian caliphate — a single, Islamic state governed according to Sharia law.

“One of the group’s early names was the Islamic Turkestan Movement, referring to all Turkic peoples and nations in Central Asia,” said Lilt Gevorgyan, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, an economic analysis and marketing intelligence firm in London.

Analysts believe that IMU militants were forced out of Central Asia more than a decade ago during a crackdown by regional governments after a series of campaigns by the group in the Ferghana Valley, which borders Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the group forged close ties with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has been deeply involved in conflicts in both countries.

Now that the IMU is under new leadership in tribal areas of northern Pakistan, analysts say the group is threatening to make a comeback in Central Asia.

“In the past two years, they seem to have made a much more determined move into northern Afghanistan in order to try and infiltrate their own homelands in Central Asia,” Mr. Rashid said.

As evidence of the IMU’s renewed vigor, Ms. Taggart pointed to an IMU-led attack on 25 members of the Tajik armed forces in September 2010 and the reported presence of other newly established militant splinter groups in the region.

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