Country Report on Terrorism 2015 - Chapter 2 - Uzbekistan

Overview: In 2015, the Government of Uzbekistan continued to rank countering terrorism within its borders as one of its top security priorities, together with counternarcotics. There were no reported significant terrorist incidents on Uzbek soil in 2015, which the government attributed to its success in ongoing efforts to counter terrorism. The government restricted information on internal matters, making it difficult to analyze the extent of the terrorist threat and the effectiveness of Uzbek law enforcement’s efforts to counter it.

The government continued to express concern about the potential for a spillover effect of terrorism from Afghanistan and other Central Asian states, especially with the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Uzbek officials expressed confidence that Uzbekistan could control its border with Afghanistan, but doubted its neighbors’ ability to do so. The government was particularly concerned with the infiltration of violent extremists through Uzbekistan’s long borders with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan shared U.S. interest in combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and ISIL-affiliated groups, but did not formally join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. However, the government remained concerned about the recruitment of Uzbek fighters to fight in the Middle East and issued public statements condemning ISIL and its recruitment propaganda.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The overarching legislation governing terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions is the Law on Combating Terrorism, passed in 2000 and revised in 2004. The Law on Counteracting Legalization of Proceeds of Crimes and Financing of Terrorism passed in 2004 prohibits money laundering and finance of terrorist activity. Legislation identifies the National Security Service (NSS), the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), the State Border Guards Committee (operating within the NSS command structure), the State Customs Committee, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Emergency Situations as the government entities responsible for countering and responding to terrorism. The NSS is the lead counterterrorism law enforcement agency, with primary responsibility for the coordination and supervision of interagency efforts.

In August, President Karimov signed a new law on citizenship, which authorized the stripping of citizenship for crimes “against peace and security,” including terrorism. As a purported counterterrorism measure, Uzbekistan also passed legislation in 2015 banning the private use and ownership of drones, remote control planes, and other similar devices.

The government has also made declarative steps to reinforce rule of law within Uzbekistan, participating in several workshops with international experts on legal case management, with the goal of empowering judges and defense attorneys to act independently in trial proceedings. However, political influences continued to drive the legal decisions within the country.

The government used security concerns related to terrorism as a pretext for the detention of suspects, and potentially used it to prosecute religious activists and political dissidents. According to press reports, law enforcement authorities detained more than 500 people based on suspicion of terrorism in November and December. The government also blocked social media sites and networking platforms, such as Skype, to purportedly prevent the spread of terrorist messaging.

Uzbekistan does not publicly share any information regarding counterterrorism operations. Based on press reports and publicly available information, the government actively investigated and prosecuted terrorist suspects. However, a lack of reliable information made it difficult to differentiate between legitimate counterterrorism law enforcement actions and possible politically motivated arrests. Both the NSS and the MIA have dedicated counterterrorism units, with some specialized equipment. In 2015, the NSS held a series of counterterrorism exercises in Tashkent, Andijan, and Bukhara.

Uzbekistan began issuing biometric passports in 2011, with the goal of converting all passports to the new biometric version by December 2015. The goal was not met, however, and the deadline was extended to July 1, 2018. The biometric data includes a digital photo, fingerprints, and biographical data. The government also actively engaged with the Export Control and Related Border Security Program and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to enhance the investigative capabilities of customs and border patrol agents and upgrade screening equipment for incoming cargo. CENTCOM supported the ongoing construction of a border control post on the border with Tajikistan.

The Government of Uzbekistan did not report taking any specific actions to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 2170, 2178, and 2199; however, the government voiced concerns over the return of foreign terrorist fighters and the recruitment of Uzbeks by ISIL and violent extremist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to NSS estimates reported to the press, at year’s end around 500 to 600 Uzbeks were fighting for ISIL. Enhanced security measures such as frequent document checks and house-to-house resident list checks sought to identify potential foreign terrorist fighters transiting through or active in Uzbekistan. According to press reports, law enforcement mandated neighborhood committees to report on all citizens suspected to have left to join ISIL or other extremist groups.

The Government of Uzbekistan bans Islamic groups it broadly defines as extremist and criminalizes membership in such groups. We refer you to the Department of State’s Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom (http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/) report for further information.

Below are known examples from 2015 in which law enforcement arrested and prosecuted suspects under charges of extremism or terrorism under Uzbekistan’s laws.

There were no reported terrorist attacks against either U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in Uzbekistan in the last five years. In September, an individual who was suspected to be mentally ill threw homemade incendiary devices at the U.S. Embassy in two separate incidents. Uzbek law enforcement apprehended the suspect after the second incident and collected evidence from Embassy security. Initial reports from law enforcement indicated that the suspect will be charged with “hooliganism.”

Both law enforcement and the judicial system in Uzbekistan are subject to political influence and corruption. The government’s approach to stopping and preventing terrorism, such as detention of suspects without strong evidence and intensive document checks, may not be effective in detecting terrorism networks and might actually contribute to anti-government sentiment. Secrecy surrounding counterterrorism efforts and compartmentalized information sharing among law enforcement agencies likely also diminished Uzbekistan’s capabilities to effectively counter terrorism.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Uzbekistan belongs to the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Uzbekistan’s financial intelligence unit is a member of the Egmont Group. The Prosecutor General’s Office Department on Fighting Tax, Currency Crimes, and Legalization of Criminal Income with its dedicated Financial Investigative Unit (FIU) is the authority responsible for implementation of EAG agreements. In August 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FIU signed a memorandum of understanding that established a legal foundation for training activities, joint investigations, and intelligence sharing.

According to Uzbekistan’s presentation at the last EAG plenary meeting of 2015, law enforcement agencies and legislators were reviewing draft legislation that would reinforce procedures for combatting the financing of terrorism. The Uzbek government did not share further details on the proposed legislation. Uzbekistan did not report any efforts to seize terrorist assets in 2015.

Uzbekistan restricted non-profit organization activity and often conducted politically-motivated financial audits that led to the curtailment of the investigated organization’s activities or full closing of the organization.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: In 2015, local neighborhood committees initiated a campaign of outreach, speaking with residents about the dangers of ISIL and extremist ideology and interviewing those intending to travel abroad or with relatives who had recently gone abroad about possible terrorist ties. Law enforcement forces and city government also conducted house-to-house checks with the goal of identifying individuals who were not officially registered at the address and may present a threat.

Official government media continued to produce documentaries and media reports about the dangers of Islamist religious extremism and joining terrorist organizations. Public officials, including President Karimov, stressed the danger of extremism and characterized extremist ideology as a perversion of Islam in public speeches. The Committee on Religious Affairs under the Cabinet of Ministers encouraged religious leaders to condemn extremist ideologies. Several imams traveled to Russia in October to consult with religious authorities there on approaches to countering extremism. Independent human rights groups estimated between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals remained in prison on charges related to religious extremism or membership in an illegal religious group.

In 2015, there were few known reintegration efforts under way in Uzbekistan as there was no significant population of returning foreign terrorist fighters. However, the government voiced concerns over the potential radicalization of Uzbek migrants who worked abroad in Russia and Kazakhstan. With the economic downturn in those countries, the government raised the question of the reintegration of returning migrants without undertaking any concrete steps to facilitate it.

International and Regional Cooperation: Uzbekistan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which has a Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure headquartered in Tashkent. In July, Uzbekistan assumed the SCO presidency from Russia. The government also worked with multilateral organizations such as the OSCE and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on general security issues, including border control. Uzbek officials participated in a UNODC conference focused on improved information sharing among border control forces of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and attended container control trainings. Within the framework of a UNODC project, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan opened two border liaison offices on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Uzbekistan law enforcement officials also participated in OSCE conferences focused on counterterrorism and counterterrorism financing approaches, and the Department of State continued to seek opportunities to develop counterterrorism assistance partnerships with Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan prefers bilateral over multilateral cooperation in counterterrorism matters. Uzbek leadership has declaratively welcomed Russia’s and others’ support in fighting terrorism. In the October meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the participants agreed to set up a joint task force on countering terrorism in the region. Similarly, as announced during Prime Minister Modi’s visit, Uzbekistan and India also plan to establish a joint working group on counterterrorism.