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Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago




[21.05.23] Kyrgyz Government Blames Local Police Commanders Following Armed Raids

Kyrgyzstan's government is downplaying a possible terrorism connection to the recent attacks on two police stations. Instead, authorities are blaming the incidents on official negligence. On May 20, central government authorities announced a police reshuffle in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, where the attacks occurred. In addition, two high-ranking government ministers have received reprimands.
 
The attacks on the Jalal-Abad police stations occurred during the early hours of May 15. Eight armed men reportedly carried out the raids, during which they beat up several police officers before making off with a variety of weapons, including automatic rifles, in two stolen vehicles. Authorities quickly launched a manhunt and apprehended seven of the eight suspected assailants. Most of the weapons stolen from the police stations were also recovered.
 
Shortly after the attack, officials and political observers were concerned that the Jalal-Abad incident might have been the work of Islamic militants. Kyrgyz officials had said earlier that underground operatives of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement were becoming increasingly active. Some in Bishkek had also warned that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had regrouped and was poised to mount new terrorist strikes.
 
Authorities now believe the attacks were engineered by a criminal group led by Adil Karimov, a former police officer who was reportedly fired in 1991 because of misconduct. Karimov is the lone suspect in the raids still at large. There are two differing versions concerning the motive for the attacks. Officials assert that Karimov gang members intended to use the captured weapons in an operation to free jailed confederates, as well as to carry out unspecified criminal acts. According to a competing theory, Karimov's gang hoped to foment a popular insurrection in the Aksy district, scene of a bloody confrontation between police and anti-government protesters in March 2002.
 
An Interior Ministry investigation has placed blame for the incident on local authorities. "The whole incident was possible because of the poor work of the Jalal-Abad regional and city internal affairs departments' duty units," the Kabar news agency reported May 20.
 
At least two section chiefs of the city police department were relieved of their commands "for having an irresponsible attitude to their duties that night [May 15]," according to Kabar. Other local police commanders faced dismissal, while still more "were cautioned that they were not fully suitable for their posts."
 
At a special government session convened May 20 to examine the Jalal-Abad attacks, President Askar Akayev's cabinet issued unprecedented official rebukes to Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov.
 
The Interior Ministry's performance has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. Three incidents in the past half-year - a December blast at a Bishkek farmer's market; an attack on a bus in March that left 19 Chinese shuttle-traders dead; and the May 8 bombing of a currency exchange office in Osh - have heightened terrorism concerns in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly after the May 8 bombing, Deputy Interior Minister Rasulberdi Raimberdiev raised the possibility that IMU militants or other Islamic radical groups may have been involved. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Officials have subsequently backed off from making an explicit link between Islamic terrorists and the Osh explosion.
 
Presidential aide Nadyrbek Momunov insists that the three recent incidents are connected. "The explosions [at the Bishkek market and Osh exchange office], and the attack on Chinese shuttle-traders are a link in one and the same chain," Momunov told Kyrgyz Public and Educational Television on May 20. "The criminal world has declared war on authorities."
 
Officials in Bishkek are at present reluctant to link the Jalal-Abad police station raids to the other incidents. Nevertheless, the published accounts of police incompetence in connection with the Jalal-Abad attacks serve to heighten security concerns, local political observers say. Many Kyrgyz now wonder about the ability of the country's security forces, especially the local police forces, to deter possible terrorist attacks against strategic sites, such as water stations.
 
By Egamberdy Kabulov,
Eurasianet, May 21, 2003

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