An Uzbek jihadist group is protesting their designation as a terrorists by the State Department last week, saying in a statement that they were “surprised” to be branded as such.
On Thursday, the State Department announced the designation of Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari (KIB) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, which imposes sanctions on foreign nationals determined to have committed or are likely to commit acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the United States. “This designation seeks to deny KIB the resources it needs to plan and carry out further terrorist attacks,” the State Department said. “Among other consequences, all of the group’s property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the group.”
Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari is the largest Uzbek fighting force in Syria. “The group has played a significant role in the fighting in northwestern Syria, fighting alongside groups including al-Nusrah Front – al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and SDGT group,” the announcement continued. “In April 2017, KIB published a video showing armed men taking part in clashes, and in December 2015 posted a video of a training camp for children, where children are taught to handle and fire weapons.”
On Sunday, KIB issued a statement in response, saying their Uzbek volunteers formed their brigade “as a result of the war long duration in Syria and the increasing number of expats.”
“Today we were surprised by the American resolution to enlist Imam al-Bukhari Brigade on the world terror list notwithstanding that we do not have ideological or intellectual ties with any faction internationally enlisted,” the group declared in their English-language statement, claiming that they’ve been fighting with the Free Syrian Army to protect civilians against threats like ISIS, “which pushed ISIS to assassinate our previous leader.”
“The classification of Imam al-Bukhari Brigade by U.S., that turns a blind eye on thousands of the Iranian-backed foreign Shiite militias that commit war crimes against the Syrians, proves that U.S. applies double standards and it is only concerned about its interests,” KIB continued.
The group vowed to stay the course “in spite of pains and problems whether in our country or by the world order.”
KIB also operates in Afghanistan and has pledged loyalty to the Taliban, who are in turn tight allies with al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. After President Trump decided the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Katibat al-Imam Bukhari leader Abu Yusuf Muhojir posted on his Telegram page a pledge to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque and wage jihad on the West.
The group at one point threw their backing behind ISIS, a move that caused a schism with members and led the Taliban to raid a KIB camp in Afghanistan in November 2015 and executive dozens of members as punishment. Their last leader, Sheikh Salahuddin, was indeed killed in an ISIS hit in April 2017 “according to Sharia law for all the betrayals he committed,” as ISIS claimed. Stated goals of the group are “to overthrow the infidel regimes and strengthen the Islamic laws in the liberated territories” as well as to train younger generations in jihad.