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How Three Brothers Went To Syria, Taking Their Families With Them


Sharif Shirinbekov from southern Tajikistan says all of his sons have been duped into going to Syria.

Sharif Shirinbekov from southern Tajikistan says all of his sons have been duped into going to Syria.

"How many times did I say, 'Don't do it'? I said, 'Your mother is crying, you have a young wife, a daughter. Why go there?'"

Sharif Shirbekov, a 60-year-old grandfather from Tajikistan, is recalling one of the last conversations he had with his youngest son, Rakhmatullo, before the 20-year-old took off for Syria.

Alas, Shirbekov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service this week, Rakhmatullo refused to listen.

"He said, 'I was called by the brothers, I'm going there'," Shirbekov remembers.

Rakhmatullo was the youngest of three of Shirbekov's sons who went to Syria. Over the past six months, eight members of Shirbekov's family -- three sons, four grandchildren, and a daughter-in-law -- have gone to the war-torn country.

Shirbekov, who lives in the Qabodiyon district in southwestern Tajikistan, has not heard from his sons lately. With them gone, money is tight. He works as a driver and says it's hard to make ends meet now. And, as if things were not bad enough, his wife has fallen ill since her three boys went to Syria, and has had to see a doctor.

Labor Migrants

Why did the brothers go to Syria? And why did they take their families with them?

Shirbekov says that all three young men had first gone to Russia as labor migrants.

None of the brothers have a higher education, and none of them served in the military, Shirbekov told RFE/RL.

In Russia, they worked on building sites or swept the streets. And they were also radicalized there.

Shirbekov complains that it was labor migrants from Uzbekistan who duped his sons into going to Syria. He comes from an Uzbek-speaking family and says that maybe that's why his sons became involved with a group from the Uzbek cities of Namangan and Andijon.

The eldest of the three, 30-year-old Umar, was the first brother to go to Russia and then to Syria, Shirbekov says. He first went to Moscow 15 years ago, and lived in a rental apartment with the Uzbek labor migrants. It was there that Umar learned to pray, according to his father. Then, at the start of 2014, Umar "did a foolish thing" and went to Syria.

Umar offered his own explanation for his actions. He telephoned his father and explained his assessment of the global situation: "The whole world is a fraud, we have to create a single Islamic state where all the world's Muslims can gather."

Two months later, the middle brother, 25-year-old Abubakr, joined Umar in Syria.

And four months after that, Rakhmatullo went to Syria too.

The Shirbekovs say that, since then, they have had no news from their three sons or their other family members.

But they still hope that Umar, Abubakr, and Rakhmatullo will come home.

Bring The Family

In some cases in Central Asia, men who go to fight in Syria -- often after first traveling to Russia for work -- leave their wives and children behind.

But sometimes families travel together. And the Shirbekov brothers are not the only Tajik nationals to have taken their wives with them to Syria.

Some 10 people from the Qabodiyon district have gone to Syria, several of them with their families, the local authorities told RFE/RL.

Reports suggest that conditions in Syria can be dangerous or even deadly for the families of Central Asian militants.

In May, the mother of Gulru Olimova, a 25-year-old Tajik woman who went to Syria with her husband, told RFE/RL that Islamic State militant group had prevented her daughter from taking her three children home to Tajikistan after her husband was killed in fighting.

There is also ample evidence that militant groups in Syria recruit the children of Central Asian militants -- including ethnic Uzbeks like the Shirbekov brothers -- to fight on the battlefield.

The Uzbek-led Imam Bukhari Jamaat, which has pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, has admitted that it recruits Uzbek children and teenagers, including the sons of its militants, as fighters.

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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