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A man prays inside the Minor Mosque in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. A man prays inside the Minor Mosque in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 21, 2019 (Photo by Valeriy Melnikov for Sputnik via AP Images).

The Exaggerated Threat of Islamist Militancy in Central Asia

Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020

Last November, a gunfight at a security checkpoint along Tajikistan’s border with Uzbekistan left 15 masked assailants and five Tajik security forces dead—at least according to the government’s official account. The Tajik authorities immediately blamed the Islamic State for the attack, which it said originated from Afghanistan. Some journalists with longtime experience in the region remained cautious and skeptical. But other outlets and news agencies with far bigger readerships uncritically relayed the government’s narrative, while adding wildly exaggerated estimates of the number of Central Asians fighting with the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

Only later, after the international media had turned its spotlight elsewhere, did a local Tajik-language news agency, ASIA-Plus, report details of the incident that completely undermined the government’s version of events. Comparing various articles in the local media that included sources in the Tajik security services and interviews with local people, plus some open-source image analysis, ASIA-Plus documented not a well-organized attack by the Islamic State, but a one-sided massacre by security forces of a group mostly comprised of women and children, whose motivations for trying to enter Tajikistan are still unclear. ...

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