Kyrgyz security forces foil al Qaeda plot

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 10:50 AM
Kyrgyz security forces foil al Qaeda plot

By Olga Dzyubenko

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan's security services said on Tuesday its officers had foiled a plot by al Qaeda-linked Islamist radicals to disrupt this month's presidential election and sow chaos in the country's volatile south.

Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic of 5.5 million that hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases, is preparing for a presidential election on October 30 that will pit nationalist candidates from the south against Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev who has forged warm ties with Moscow.

Tension is simmering in the south, where more than 400 people were killed and around 400,000 temporarily displaced during ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in June 2010.

The Central Asian country's State Committee on National Security (GKNB), successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said on Tuesday it had killed one religious radical and detained 11 other members of banned radical Islamist organizations.

"This group had been preparing a series of actions to disrupt the election," GKNB head Keneshbek Dushebayev told a news conference.

He said the group consisted of members of the Islamic Jihad Group and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The two organizations are close al Qaeda allies.

He said eight members of the underground ring were still at large. He said the multinational group included ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Uighur, Tajiks and a Kazakh trained in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dushebayev said the group had "significantly stepped up its activity" last Saturday when President Roza Otunbayeva, parliamentary speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov and government members were visiting the south.

"They gathered in a mosque, we were forced to take them under tight control," he said.

"If they had managed to destabilize the situation (in Kyrgyzstan), they would have spread their activity to neighboring states. Their goal is to seize a bridgehead here and then move on to the east and north."

Kyrgyzstan lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Its south makes up part of the overpopulated and impoverished Ferghana Valley shared with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan where radical Islam is on the rise.

Dushebayev said the dead "terrorist" was the one who hijacked a minibus on Saturday. None of the 15 passengers were harmed when police shot him dead at a roadblock near the city of Osh, the epicenter of last year's ethnic violence.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)