Uzbekistan says uncovering militants daily among returning migrants

TASHKENT (Reuters) - Uzbekistan’s police routinely uncover militant Islamists among Uzbek migrants returning home and plan to expose those who remain abroad via social networks, Interior Minister Abdusalom Azizov said on Tuesday.

Uzbek Interior Minister Abdusalom Azizov attends a news conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Muhammadsharif Mamatkulov

An Uzbek asylum seeker has been charged by a Swedish court over a deadly truck attack in Stockholm last month that put Uzbekistan, a largely Muslim Central Asian nation, in the global spotlight. Five people were killed in the attack.

“I will not hide the fact that almost every day we uncover people ... who have returned (from abroad) and start spreading the Wahhabi ideology here,” Azizov told reporters, referring to the ultra-conservative strand of Islam that inspires some militant groups and is banned in Uzbekistan.

“There are many attempts (to spread it in Uzbekistan), but so far we are stopping them all,” he added.

Azizov said most Islamist suspects returning to Uzbekistan had been radicalized while living abroad, “in Russia, Turkey, other countries”.

Uzbekistan, which battled armed Islamists on its own soil in the 1990s, said last month it had tipped off a western nation before the Stockholm attack that Rakhmat Akilov, the suspected perpetrator, was an Islamic State recruit.

It did not say which nation it had contacted about Akilov.

Tashkent’s poor human rights track record under its late president Islam Karimov limited its security cooperation with the West. But Shavkat Mirziyoyev, elected president last year following Karimov’s death, has overseen the release of several political prisoners, winning praise from Washington.

“But in some countries, including Sweden, our (suspected radicals) are treated as refugees,” said Azizov.

He added that his ministry planned to publish a wanted list of Uzbek militants on social networks to help draw them to the attention of potential foreign employers and landlords.

Azizov did not say how many Uzbek nationals were returning home or how many of them were suspected militants.

Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones