Suicide Bombing Memorial, Sana'a, Yemen. © Christopher Swift 2012

Suicide Bombing in Sana’a

Sana’a, Yemen – After meeting my driver and interpreter this morning, we drove directly to the site of the May 21 suicide bombing in Sana’a. After navigating through the twisting cobblestone passages of the Old City, we drove down dusty boulevards towards the Al-Saleh Mosque–a glorious $80 million structure named for Yemen’s recently-deposed president. My…

Sana'a, Yemen

The City of Noah

Sana’a, Yemen – Crossing into Syrian airspace this evening, my flight found itself buffeted by powerful crosswinds. Barometric pressure dropped swiftly, triggering the storm alarm feature on my mountaineering watch and giving me about fifteen seconds to grip the armrest and brace for the next bout of turbulence. Looking back, the circumstances seemed a fitting…

Yemeni Protestors

The Perils of Armchair Analysis

Istanbul, Turkey – International travel is swiftly loosing its sense of drama. Arriving at the airport, we are ticketed, screened, and sorted before being strapped into into our seats and hurtled across time zones. The experience leaves little time for farewells and less for personal reflection. Instead we preoccupy ourselves with mundane aggravations: bad traffic,…

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Fieldwork in Yemen

Washington, DC — Over the last few years I’ve traveled to several crisis zones in an effort to understand al-Qaeda’s relationship with local militants. As a graduate student I spend several weeks in Afghanistan examining the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Research later led me to the North Caucasus, where I studied the regionalization of…

Batken, Kyrgyzstan

Crossing into Kyrgyzstan

Batken, Kyrgyzstan — Early this afternoon I hired a car in the Isfara bazaar and crossed from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan at the border near Batken. To my surprise, a Tajik border guard accompanied us to the checkpoint. I don’t know what sort of transaction may have transpired between the boarder guard and my Kyrgyz driver. All I…

Tajikistan Map

Bomb Scare in Isfara

Isfara, Tajikistan — Yesterday’s bomb scare in Isfara has derailed my efforts to meet with religious leaders and other local sources. With the city now crawling with officials from the Interior Ministry (MVD) and State Committee for National Security (SCNS), my contacts concluded that this was an inauspicious time to meet with Americans writing books…

Unguarded border crossing, Ta

Arms Catches & Trafficking

Khujand, Tajikistan — This morning I had coffee with officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSEC), which maintains a field office here in northern Tajikistan. What’s on their agenda? Locating and decommissioning scores of secret weapons caches left over from the Tajik Civil War. With Tajikistan already serving as a transit…

Religious Texts. Dushanbe, Tajikistan. © Christopher Swift 2012

Radicalization & Religious Education

Khujand, Tajikistan — Today’s meetings concluded with a lengthy discussion on the evolution of Central Asian Islamist movements with a historian from Khujand State University. Like my other interviewees, he argued that groups like IMU and HuT tended to attract younger followers—particularly those with high levels of unemployment and low levels of religious education. Each…

Urunboy Usmanov

The Trials of Urunboy Usmonov

Khujand, Tajikistan — This afternoon I met with a source who has been following the recent arrest of BBC correspondent Urunbay Usmonov. Two days ago, a Tajik government advisor told me that the arrest was an unfortunate error on the part of local authorities and would be quickly resolved. Yet here in Khujand, regional security…

Central Square, Khujand, Tajikistan.  © Christopher Swift 2012

Two Imams, One Message

Khujand, Tajikistan — Today’s interviews with two local Imams underscore the generational and demographic diversity within Tajikistan’s religious establishment. The older Imam leads an urban mosque in Khujand. His younger counterpart heads a congregation in a rural Uzbek community. Yet each man expressed similar concerns over the infiltration of foreign Salafi ideology. And each offered…