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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyzstan Struggles to Keep Out al-Qaida

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- This Central Asian nation hosting U.S. troops is a preferred sanctuary for an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group because of loose border controls and widespread corruption, convicted terrorists said in interrogation records.

"Kyrgyzstan has the most favorable conditions to carry out terrorist attacks and for former members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to settle down," Azizbek Karimov said in court documents.

He was sentenced to death last month in neighboring Uzbekistan for involvement in two Kyrgyz bombings that killed eight people.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001 in Afghanistan. Labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. government, the IMU was blamed for a series of incursions and kidnappings in Central Asia from 1999 to 2001.

The group, which seeks to overthrow Uzbekistan's secular government, is believed to have been seriously weakened by the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Still, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said last month in Washington that "it is too early to talk about the end of terrorism," even though the Taliban has been forced from power in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan is hosting some 1,100 U.S. troops at the main civilian airport near the capital Bishkek, who conduct missions supporting air operations over Afghanistan, some 700 kilometers to the southwest.

Last year, the Kyrgyz National Security Service arrested three Kyrgyz nationals allegedly preparing a terrorist attack against the base, and their trial starts Tuesday.

An earlier pair of bombing attacks at a Bishkek market in 2002 and a bank in the southern city of Osh in 2003 were tied to the IMU. Along with Karimov, two Uzbek nationals -- Ilkhom Izatulloyev and Assadullo Abdullayev -- were tried in Kyrgyzstan for the bombings and sentenced to death last month. The attackers told authorities they chose those targets because of the high security around their preferred objectives, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek and a Turkish-owned hotel.

Karimov and Izatulloyev were active members of the IMU and allegedly under the direct command of the group's leaders, Kyrgyz officials say. Both lived in Afghanistan and were trained in camps there between 1999 and 2001, until the U.S.-led war on terror began. Karimov also trained in Chechnya, where the Russian government has been fighting separatists since the 1990s.

"In our first days in Chechnya, we studied weapons, tactics and topography. We didn't have any special instructions on explosives, but we always asked our instructors about how we could make an explosive," Karimov said in his interrogation, conducted in May by Uzbek authorities, who handed over the transcripts to Kyrgyzstan.

The two countries cooperated closely in the investigation, and the documents are signed by Karimov. However, the United Nations has complained of "systematic" torture in Uzbek jails, and the judicial system is closely controlled by the government, which could cast doubts on the veracity of the documents.