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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Popular Kyrgyz imam shot dead
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Kyrgyzstan

Map showing Kyrgyzstan
A prominent and popular imam has been killed in the south of Kyrgyzstan, in the town of Korasuv in the Ferghana Valley near the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border.

According to his family and local police, the imam - Rafik Kamalov - was shot dead by Kyrgyz special forces.

But security officials have not confirmed his death.

The Ferghana Valley lies in the south of Kyrgyzstan - the very heart of Muslim Central Asia.

Authorities have been cracking down on what they call Islamic fundamentalism.

Outcry

In an interview with the BBC, Kyrgyz security officials confirmed that they had killed three men during a special operation on Thursday night and that all of them were members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - a banned radical organisation.

The officials neither confirmed nor denied that Rafik Kamalov, the Imam of the biggest mosque along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, was among them.

But family members, who are preparing for the funeral, deny that he belonged to any Islamic group.

For the past month, Kyrgyz security services, often with the help of their Uzbek colleagues, have launched a massive operation aimed at eradicating what the government here calls the serious threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

But human rights groups have voiced concern that this label is often used to silence political dissent.

The death of this hugely popular Imam could provoke a major public outcry among the deeply Islamic population of the Ferghana Valley.




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