Two hundred labor migrants from Tajikistan have left their workplaces in Russia to go and fight alongside militants in Syria, Tajikistan's Interior Minister, Ramazon Rakhimzoda has claimed.
Rakhimzoda made his comments at a February meeting with young people in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, although information about the event was only published on March 3, RFE/RL's Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported.
The Tajik Interior Minister blamed groups on the internet that "hunted" for "weak" youths in order to destabilize society.
"In order to achieve their goals, they finance young people and send them to unofficial Islamic schools abroad, and use other methods. As a result, over 200 wayward young people who found themselves as labor migrants in Russia, were sent to the fighting in Syria," Rakhimzoda said.
It is not known how many Tajik nationals are fighting in Syria and Iraq. Official figures have put the number at 300. Edward Lemon from the UK's University of Exeter, who tracks Tajik fighters in Syria, says there is online evidence of just 67 fighters, though there are likely to be more unreported Tajiks in Syria and Iraq.
While there is certainly evidence that young Tajik labor migrants in Russia are among those who have been radicalized and gone to fight in Syria, Rakhimzoda's figure of 200 Tajiks who joined militant groups in the Middle East from Russia has not been quoted by any other analysts or government officials.
A recent study by researchers in Tajikistan's Center for the Study of Modern Processes and Forecasting suggested that socioeconomic problems in the republic -- Central Asia's poorest -- have indeed exacerbated the issue of radicalization.
The fact that Tajik labor migrants in Russia are offered only the very lowest paid, menial jobs leaves some of them open to being attracted by radical Islam, the study's author Hafiz Boboerov found.
Boboerov recommended that the Tajik government try to address the root of the problem by tackling youth unemployment in Tajikistan, which would stem the tide of vulnerable youth labor migrants to Russia.
Rather than addressing the impact of Tajikistan's socioeconomic problems on radicalization, including that of labor migrants, Rakhimzoda blamed "foreign intelligence services," which he said had stepped in after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the weakening of the authorities in Tajikistan.
These foreign intelligence services -- Rakhimzoda did not specify from which countries -- were attracting "deceived youth" into "extremist currents" like Hizb ut-Tahrir and militant groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Jamaat Ansarullah, in order to "achieve their objectives," Rakhimzoda said.
Rakhimzoda is not the first government official in a former Soviet republic to blame radicalization on outside forces, specifically on foreign intelligence services.
The head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, accused the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies of deliberately targeting young Chechens in order to radicalize them and persuade them to fight alongside the Islamic State group in Syria.
Kadyrov has also accused the United States and its Western allies of using the Islamic State group to wage a "hidden war on Islam."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk