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'Complex Factors' Pushing Kazakh Men, Women To Join IS

A video that circulated on the Internet in November 2013 showed a group of around 150 Kazakh militants who said that they had come to Syria with their families.

A video that circulated on the Internet in November 2013 showed a group of around 150 Kazakh militants who said that they had come to Syria with their families.

A complex set of social, economic and cultural factors are behind the decisions of Kazakh men and women who join Islamic State (IS) in Syria, according to Tatyana Dronzina, an expert in terrorism from Sofia State University in Bulgaria.

Dronzina told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on November 20 that not all IS militants from Kazakhstan come from poor or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. "Among them are people with higher education or vocational training, and those who had good jobs. Some graduated from elite schools, others lived in big cities. We can't say that only those who were marginalized left [for Syria]," Dronzina says.

Dronzina also notes that many of the Kazakh jihadis took their families with them to Syria, and that their wives have apparently followed them unquestioningly. "If their wives had had more rights, maybe they would stopped their husbands, or stayed for the sake of the children," she says.

According to Dronzina, Kazakh militants were not joining Islamic State because of religious repression at home in Kazakhstan.

In order to prevent more Kazakh men and women from joining Islamic State, Dronzina says that the truth about the extremist group should be made very clear, so that potential recruits are aware of the atrocities carried out by IS militants, including forcing minority women into slavery, and committing murder.

"We must clearly explain that the actions of Islamic State have nothing to do with real Islam," Dronzina says.

In Kazakhstan, the government should strengthen the rule of law and the secular state, and create opportunities for young people to be "the active builders of their own lives, freeing them from any clan, kindred, compatriot or other dependencies," she says.

In Kazakhstan, the issue of Kazakh nationals fighting with Islamic State in Syria has attracted a great deal of media attention, including warnings about what Kazakhs can expect if they travel to Syria to fight.

One recent article from November 3 quotes Zhanbota Karashulakov of the Research and Analytical Center on Religion of the Religious Affairs Committee as saying that "expert data" showed that 80 percent of Kazakh militants in Syria were already dead.

"Our people our becoming human goods there and are being sold from one group to another, they don't have the right to leave and at any moment they can be shot as traitors to the idea of 'pure' Islam," Karashulakov added.

Despite such claims, there appears to be little reliable data on the number of Kazakh militants in Syria.

Nurtai Abykaev, the chairman of Kazakhstan's intelligence agency, the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), said on November 18 that there were over 300 Kazakh militants in Islamic State, of which around 150 are women.

However, this figure most likely comes from a video that circulated on the Internet in November 2013 showing a group of around 150 Kazakh militants who said that they had come to Syria with their families.

The comments came amid increasing concerns in Kazakhstan that Kazakh nationals are fighting not just in Syria but also in other "hotspots." On October 30, Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General's Office said that it had "objective information" about a number of Kazakh citizens fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

The Prosecutor-General's Office warned Kazakh nationals that it was a crime to leave the country to participate in hostilities abroad. Those found guilty of participating in armed conflict or military operations in a foreign state could be liable for up to seven years in prison, it said.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena


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