Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Uzbekistan

Overview: The Government of Uzbekistan remained concerned about the potential spillover of terrorism from Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors and about radicalization of Uzbeks abroad. President Mirziyoyev sought to improve relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbors in many areas, including security cooperation. Uzbekistan has actively participated in the C5+1 regional framework with the United States and the Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), which includes a program related to countering violent extremism. Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOI) stepped up its law enforcement cooperation with the United States following the October 31 New York City terrorist attack in which an ethnic Uzbek who was a U.S. permanent resident was charged. While Uzbekistan remains concerned about ISIS recruitment of Uzbeks and shares U.S. interests in combating ISIS, it did not formally join the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The government restricts information on internal matters, making it difficult to analyze the extent of the terrorist threat and the effectiveness of Uzbek law enforcement efforts.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: All of the 2017 terrorist attacks suspected of being committed by Uzbeks or ethnic Uzbeks happened outside of Uzbekistan. A U.S. permanent resident from Uzbekistan is under investigation for driving a rented van into a crowd in New York City on October 31, killing eight people and injuring 12 others. An ethnic Uzbek was arrested in Sweden in April for running a truck into a crowd in Stockholm and killing four people. Another ethnic Uzbek is on trial for committing the Istanbul nightclub attack that killed 39 people and injured 65 others on New Year’s Eve. Dozens of Uzbeks were arrested in Russia throughout 2017 in various anti-terrorism investigations.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The “Law on Combating Terrorism” governs terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions and identifies the National Security Service (NSS) as the lead counterterrorism law enforcement agency. Uzbekistan also criminalizes terrorism under Article 155 of the criminal code. In 2017, President Mirziyoyev announced the National Development Strategy for 2017-2021, Article 2.4 of which targets corruption, extremism, and terrorism.

In September 2017, President Mirizyoyev announced the careful screening and subsequent removal of approximately 16,000 people from a 17,000-person security watch list of suspected Muslim extremists. Despite this positive development, security concerns related to terrorism were commonly used as grounds for detaining people.

Uzbekistan’s officials committed to enhanced police and other information sharing and cooperation in specific cases, such as the October 31 New York City attack, when the Ministry of Interior helped arrange witness interviews and shared information on the interviews and record checks conducted by the MOI. However, Uzbekistan does not publicly share operational counterterrorism information. Both the NSS and the MOI have dedicated counterterrorism units. Uzbek law enforcement maintains its own terrorist watchlist and contributed to INTERPOL databases. Most border posts and airports are equipped with biometric data scanners, and Uzbekistan is working to convert all passports to a new biometric version by July 1, 2018, and to introduce international biometric passports for travel abroad starting January 2019.

Uzbekistan has not reported specific actions to implement UN Security Council resolution 2178 (2014). Frequent document checks and resident-list checks seek to identify potential foreign terrorist fighters. In 2017, human rights activists noted an increase in the number of arrests of returning migrant workers on suspicion of involvement in ISIS or religious extremism. In May, Tashkent City Criminal Court sentenced a group of 11 Muslims to prison terms of up to six years for religious extremism. In August, the same court sentenced two Uzbek nationals to 15 years each for trying to join terrorist groups in Syria.

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. Article 155 of the criminal code criminalizes the financing of terrorism and includes a prison sentence of eight to 10 years. The anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism law provides for freezing of assets and mandates that all financial entities check parties to a transaction against lists of persons involved or suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. An additional regulation establishes a procedure for the creation of such lists and delisting requests. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Uzbekistan remains concerned about ISIS recruitment of Uzbeks. Ethnic Uzbeks formerly associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan continued to fight in Afghanistan. Local government organizations strived to educate citizens about the dangers of “religious extremism.” President Mirziyoyev requested the creation of an Islamic Cultural Center in Tashkent to “promote Islam’s true values.” Uzbekistan is developing a draft law “On combating extremism,” which should define violent extremism for purposes of Uzbek law. The law bans a number of religious groups as “extremist.” We refer you to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and Report on International Religious Freedom for 2017 for further information.

There were few reintegration efforts underway in Uzbekistan. When the President announced the removal of 16,000 people from the blacklist of alleged religious extremists, he said that 9,500 of these individuals had been given jobs and urged Muslim clerics and officials to ensure that the rest of the delisted individuals have employment. Official media and Tashkent Islamic University produced public messages about the dangers of “extremism” and posted them on social media platforms and messaging apps.

International and Regional Cooperation: Uzbekistan is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In 2017, Tashkent hosted the 30th meeting of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) and the fifth SCO RATS Conference on Fighting Terrorism, as well as signed the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism. Uzbekistan has also worked with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on security issues. In October 2017, Uzbekistan held the first joint Russian-Uzbek military exercise since 2005, which included a simulated counterterrorism operation.

Although Uzbekistan welcomed closer cooperation in fighting terrorism and “extremism” during high level and working meetings with officials from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, and at the Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Sochi, the government does not release detailed information about such efforts.