A Probably Fake 'Jihad' in Kyrgyzstan

A new terrorist group threatens to destabilize a U.S. military installation in the central Asian republic.

Manas Feb28 p.jpg
Kyrgyz women in traditional costume and U.S. military personnel before a ceremony at the Manas Transit Center near Bishkek / Reuters

A previously unheard-of group is declaring jihad against the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan:

"We do not want to be slaves and victims of an Iranian missile counterattack! For 10 years, our native land was trampling under the boots of American soldiers. The central airport of the country, bearing the name of Manas the Generous, has been turned into the arsenal and base of an occupying army. The army that is waging war against our brother-Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, is also preparing a strike on Iran and Syria. Kyrgyz horsemen, Uzbek brothers, Uighurs, Dungans, Tatars, Chechens and Ingush, Russian brothers, all of us, together, must throw away our country's shameful yoke."

The group calls itself the "Muslim Resistance Committee of Kyrgyzstan" and urges Kyrgyz workers at Manas to wage jihad on the base by diluting kerosene, breaking equipment, poisoning food, and killing Americans (I cannot independently confirm that any of these things have actually happened yet). The Committee has issued an ultimatum to newly inaugurated president Almazbek Atambaev: remove the Americans from Manas, or the Committee will remove him from office.

It's an interesting statement (full text here, in Russian), if only for being grounded in Atambaev's own Iran-based fear of an attack on Kyrgyz territory. It is also part of a broader system of increasingly heated political rhetoric in the country.

But there seems to be a growing consensus that there's actually very little that's Muslim about the Resistance Committee. In the link above, Vesti.kg quotes several religious scholars who had never heard of this group before; it also has no known ties to international terrorism. Each religious scholar Vesti.kg quoted speculates that it is really a political group trying to oppose the American military base while couching its opposition in religious terms.

Last month there was a small rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek to demand Manas be closed down immediately. Those rallies rarely seem to excite more than token interest from mainstream Kyrgyzstan, however.

Maybe this new Resistance Committee thinks it can get more attention if it couches its political demands in religious terms. There is a tendency to assign relatively banal or small scale incidents in Kyrgyzstan religious significance in order to to establish a threat. The biggest downside to this, which the Resistance Committee might not realize, is that turning resistance to Manas into a jihad issue will not exactly make the U.S. military want to leave -- rather, it will make the U.S. military want to stay even longer to make sure it has neutralized the "threat."

From a strategic perspective, the Resistance Committee is not positioned for success, in other words. And with Vesti.kg the only outlet reporting on the group, it's fair to wonder if that group really exists or if it's just an artifact of a letter writing campaign, for example, or some ominous internet postings. No one seems to know who or what this Resistance Committee is, save that it's probably not worth paying attention to.

So no, there probably is not a new jihad threat in Kyrgyzstan. There probably is, however, a marginal political group desperately angling for relevance. Doesn't sound quite so ominous now, does it?

A version of this post originally appeared at Registan.net.