DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- The toll from an attack Sunday by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants indicted 25 troops killed and 20 more wounded, Tajikistan's Defense Ministry said.
The assault has raised Central Asian fears that the violence in Afghanistan is spreading northward into former Soviet Central Asian republics bordering Afghanistan.
Tajikistan blamed the recent attacks on the IMU, a militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, NEWSru.com news agency reported Tuesday.
The IMU insurgents ambushed a military convoy in the Rasht Valley east of the capital Dushanbe. The attack followed an Aug. 22 prison break, in which 25 IMU al-Qaida-linked militants escaped from a Dushanbe prison, killing six guards in a daring nighttime operation. The militants were believed by authorities to be headed toward the Rasht Valley region, where troops hunting them were attacked and killed.
Raising regional concerns, Central Asian IMU militants who have fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan since 1991 could attempt to exploit political turmoil and ethnic divisions to gain a foothold in the Ferghana valley, shared by the former Soviet republics Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. While Uzbekistan remains quiescent, in April neighboring Kyrgyzstan underwent a second "tulip revolution," which drove President Kurmanbek Bakiyev from power, and the interim government headed by Rosa Otunbayeva has since struggled to contain unrest in the south of the country. Complicating the picture is the fact that all three nations serve as transit points for Afghan drug lords smuggling heroin and opiates northward.
The IMU was founded in the late 1990s in Tajikistan with the aim to overthrow Uzbek President Islam Karimov and create an Islamic Shariah legal state in the former Soviet republic.
In an unsettling attack, on Feb. 16, 1999, IMU militants detonated six car bombs in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent in an attempt to assassinate Karimov.
The subsequent U.S. attack on Afghanistan in November 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States decimated the IMU, as it had transferred its base of operations there. But since then, many IMU operatives have relocated to northwestern Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, particularly in Waziristan, where they have intermarried with local inhabitants and continued to develop their training and operational bases.
In light of the recent attack Kyrgyzstan has closed its border with Tajikistan. The head of the press center of the Tajik Border Troops' directorate, Khushnud Rahmatulloyev said that Tajikistan is in favor of "stepping up practical interaction regarding exchanging information to improve the security of its borders."