- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan [-] Qasimjan Ermatov hadn’t been back to Uzbekistan since he was drafted into the Soviet Army in 1985 and sent to fight the U.S.-backed [NOTE]mujahedin[NOTE]mujahedeen in Afghanistan. His Uzbek family was told he died in battle. In reality, he had switched sides, joining the holy warriors after they captured him.

The Muslim militant’s return from the grave began on a winter night last year in Karachi, Pakistan. A dozen policemen snatched him from his bed, handcuffed him and shipped him to Uzbekistan, where he was tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Uzbeks like Ermatov who are accused or admitted members of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have been secretly extradited home by the dozens [-] from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and elsewhere [-] to face long prison terms for religious extremism, according to their families, human rights groups and court records.

Critics say those countries are ignoring international laws and flouting extradition treaties as they move suspected terrorists across borders while denying them legal representation.

The U.S. government has been criticized by human rights groups for practicing similar “extraordinary renditions” by sending terror suspects to foreign countries [-] such as Uzbekistan and Arab-world allies [-] where they purportedly are tortured.

Meanwhile, militants who manage to escape the global dragnet have been able to stay on the run with relative ease. They cross borders along Silk Road trade routes by paying Iranian racketeers and Tajik border guards, and getting fake documents and help from an international militant network still in business nearly four years after the September 11 attacks, according to court records and interviews with former members of the Uzbek terrorist group.

In their tiny Uzbek village of Uiyger, back in the days when Uzbekistan was a Soviet republic, Ermatov’s family was mourning its son. A giant poster of the young soldier was hung at the local school, which was renamed in his honor. An elaborate tomb was erected.

Later the family would learn he was alive but afraid to return to Uzbekistan because the authoritarian regime was purging suspected religious extremists.

In 1995 he received Afghan citizenship from Burhanuddin Rabbani, then Afghanistan’s president, according to Rabbani aide Azim Nasir.

He married Shakira, an Afghan woman who bore him four children, and it was her difficult pregnancy with their fifth child that led him to take her to Karachi for treatment, according to his parents, Timorova and Moshtallah.

The Arabian Sea coastal city, Pakistan’s largest, has given up some of the most wanted al Qaeda men, including Ramzi Binalshibh, a moneyman for the September 11 attacks and a would-be hijacker who was unable to get a U.S. visa.

Ermatov, his wife, two of their children plus the newborn, were living in a house with several other people when police swooped in January 2004. Shakira recalls he had just fallen asleep after telling her he wanted to return to Afghanistan.

Ermatov, who is now 39, pleaded with his Pakistani captors to send him to Afghanistan, but was never allowed to see a lawyer or given an opportunity to fight his extradition, according to his testimony at his trial in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital.

His elderly parents, who live in a dilapidated [NOTE]old [NOTE]cement room, were told in June 2004 that their son was in Uzbekistan and on trial for belonging to a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to 18 years in jail. His appeal lasted one day. He lost.

Ermatov’s sister, Dilpusa, said two former IMU members who testified against him whispered “I’m sorry” as they slipped past him in court.

Shakira said the Pakistanis kept her and the children in jail for a month before letting them leave for Afghanistan.

Allison Gill, Uzbekistan representative of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said key U.S. allies are ignoring international laws and treaties to move suspected terrorists across borders, usually secretly, though the information sometimes comes out later in court.

Ermatov, she said, “is picked up in Pakistan, transferred by nontreaty means, no diplomatic assurances, no promise of fair trial, no lawyers are involved, no worry about the record of abuse here.”

Miss Gill said U.S. planes are being logged as landing at Tashkent airport, bringing prisoners for interrogation in Uzbekistan [-] something U.S. authorities won’t confirm.

Pakistan’s Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed wouldn’t comment. In Tashkent, the government refused to answer verbal and written questions.

One of the others arrested in Ermatov’s Karachi home is Qobiljon Masirahunov.

At his trial in Tashkent, Masirahunov said a Westerner he said was an American interrogated him in Pakistan. Masirahunov admitted to being a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. government labels a terrorist organization.

Masirahunov’s return home was circuitous. From Pakistan, he was sent to Tajikistan, where he was held for two months and interrogated before being handed to Uzbekistan’s National Security Force. He was tried in November 2004 and sentenced to 18 years in jail, according to court records.

The indictment says that in Karachi, Masirahunov, 32, [NOTE]got[NOTE]obtained a forged passport of Kyrgyzstan and a fake visa for Iran. It says the passport was prepared by Chinese Uighurs, who were fellow Muslim militants and charged him $300.

Masirahunov traveled unhindered to Iran, crossing at Zahedan, a border town in southeast Iran where Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran converge.

This was in 2003, at a time when 18,000 U.S. troops were combing the Afghan border regions, and military operations were being carried out in Pakistan’s lawless tribal border regions with much of the activity aimed at finding al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Masirahunov went to Tehran, then took a bus to Istanbul where he hung out with his brother, who was in Turkey trying to set up a new IMU branch, the indictment says.

After a business partnership with Turkish Kurds soured, Masirahunov returned to Pakistan through Iran and Afghanistan to get $2,000 from the IMU political leader, Tahir Yuldash, who was crossing frequently between Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to court documents.

Yuldash, among the most wanted men in Uzbekistan, has had a home for more than 10 years in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region. There the Pakistan military wages ferocious battles with militants and tribesmen, who have adopted Uzbeks because they have lived so long in the area.

The Uzbeks who are secretly transported home for trial are among an estimated 7,000 prisoners being held there on charges of “religious extremism,” according to human rights officials who purport torture and other mistreatment.

Public anger over the jailings spilled over in May, when a crowd in the eastern city of Andijan seized weapons from police and army units and stormed a prison holding 23 businessmen on trial for purported involvement with “religious extremist” groups.

After Uzbek troops opened fire on thousands of demonstrators, the government said 173 persons were killed, mostly Islamic rebels and soldiers.

Human rights groups say hundreds more died, including unarmed civilians, women and children.


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