Abdukudus Mirzoev takes the precautions of a wanted man.
Before venturing out of his house on the outskirts of this city
Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley, he makes several secretive calls on his
cell phone. And as he drives away, Mr. Mirzoev glances into the
rearview mirror twice to make sure he isn't being tailed.
Mirzoev's worries are a reaction to a year-long crackdown on
who are perceived as "Wahhabis," or Islamic extremists, by the Uzbek
The breakup of the Soviet Union brought about economic uncertainty
and an erosion of law in parts of Central Asia. It also ended an era
of official atheism and reawakened fundamentalist Islam in the
Fearing the religious extremism that was tearing apart neighboring
Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the Uzbek government soon cracked down
believers suspected of Islamic extremism.
"We don't live normally," says the young man about his family.
"How can we, if after three years we still don't know what happened
to my father?"
Abduvali Mirzoev, one of Uzbekistan's most popular imams,
disappeared on his way to Moscow in August 1995.
The Uzbek government claims it has no news about his whereabouts,
but the younger Mirzoev is convinced that the Uzbek secret police
kidnapped his father as he was boarding his flight at the Tashkent
Given Uzbek President Islam Karimov's strong-handed campaign
against alleged Islamists in the religiously conservative Fergana
Valley, Mirzoev's fears may be justified. After a spate of murders -
including the killing of four policemen - in the nearby city of
Namangan last December, Mr. Karimov launched a massive crackdown
against Wahhabis. Thousands of the region's young men were
arbitrarily arrested and detained, say human rights activists.
Following the swift sentencing of 27 suspects in murder trials
that were criticized for their lack of due process, a blanket of
and resentment has settled on the Uzbek side of the Fergana Valley,
where one-third of the country's population, or 7 million people,
That fear has been fueled by the current crackdown on those
suspected of subscribing to "Wahhabism," which refers to an 18th-
century Saudi Islamic movement bent on purifying the faith.
"Such people must be shot in the head," Karimov told parliament in
May. "If necessary, I'll shoot them myself, if you lack the
The only problem is that nobody quite knows how to identify a
Wahhabi. That is one reason, many here suspect, that men with beards
and women wearing veils were the first to be targeted by
During the crackdown last December, however, police appeared to
up young men almost randomly.
"What kind of Wahhabis could come from people like us?" asks a
distressed mother in Namangan, the city most affected by the
crackdown. The retired doctor recalls how one afternoon last
December, 22 police armed with automatic weapons burst into her
apartment looking for her son.
First, they ushered the frightened family onto the balcony. Then,
she says, "They called me back into the room and lifted a blanket
from the bed, exposing grenades, pistol cartridges, and marijuana."
Accused of murdering a former collective farm manager and his
wife, the young man was taken away and later beaten, his mother