Homeland of bike path suspect known for poverty, suppression
MOSCOW (AP) — Uzbekistan, an ex-Soviet and predominantly Sunni Muslim nation in Central Asia, is estimated to have produced hundreds and perhaps thousands of members for the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like the 29-year-old suspect in the truck attack on a New York City bike path, some were accused of carrying out terror attacks.
Some facts about Uzbekistan, its history and connections to acts of terror:
CENTRAL ASIAN POWERHOUSE
Uzbekistan sits in the heart of Central Asia, and for millennia, it was a key conduit for trade along the ancient Silk Road that stretched from China to the Mediterranean.
The territory that makes up Uzbekistan today was conquered and incorporated into the Russian Empire during the 19th century. Its rich natural resources made it a prize of the Soviet Union.
Following the Soviet collapse, Uzbekistan has sought to balance ties with its former imperial master and the West. The nation of 32 million people is north of Afghanistan and the location made it an important supply hub for U.S. military operations in that country.
Uzbekistan’s last Communist boss, Islam Karimov, remained at the republic’s helm after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The authoritarian Karimov ruled Uzbekistan for more than a quarter century, from 1989 until his death in 2016.
During his rule, Uzbek troops killed hundreds of unarmed demonstrators during a 2005 uprising. Thousands of Karimov’s political opponents were jailed and some were reportedly boiled to death. Karimov faced strong international criticism for his brutal crackdown on dissent.
His successor as president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was elected in December 2016 and has gradually moved the country toward liberalization, freeing some political prisoners and easing rigid state controls over the economy.
Mirziyoyev sent his condolences to President Donald Trump and offered Uzbekistan’s assistance in investigating Tuesday’s attack.
Human rights groups say widespread poverty and the relentless suppression of dissent under Karimov fueled radical Islamic sentiment in Uzbekistan.
The outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has been active in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. The extremist group has a particularly strong presence in northern Afghanistan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year cited intelligence data indicating that about 4,000 Russian residents and 5,000 citizens of Central Asian nations have joined IS and other extremist groups in Syria.
According to some media reports, the New York bike path suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, lived for some time in Kyrgyzstan, another ex-Soviet nation that borders Uzbekistan and has a sizable ethnic Uzbek minority.
In June 2010, the area near the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan where Saipov reportedly lived saw violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that left at least 470 people dead. Nearly three-quarters of them were ethnic Uzbeks; the violence prompted an exodus of Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbek immigrants have identified as suspects in other extremist attacks this year.
A native of Uzbekistan, Rakhmat Akilov, drove a stolen beer truck on April 7 into a crowd of afternoon shoppers in downtown Stockholm, killing four people and injuring 15 others. A fifth victim later died of wounds from the attack. Akilov was known to have been sympathetic to the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations.
An ethnic Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan, Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, blew himself up on a subway train in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 3, killing 15 passengers and injuring about another 50. Russian security agencies later arrested several accomplices. They also came from ex-Soviet Central Asian nations and had ties to the Islamic State group.