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Is IS Recruiting Doctors From Uzbekistan?

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

It is not known how many Uzbeks have actually joined IS or other militant groups in Syria. A number of widely varying figures have been put forward by various officials and analysts.

It is not known how many Uzbeks have actually joined IS or other militant groups in Syria. A number of widely varying figures have been put forward by various officials and analysts.

The Islamic State (IS) militant group is recruiting "specialists" -- including doctors and engineers -- from Uzbekistan, according to Khusan Mamurov, an analyst with Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB).

Most Uzbeks recruited by IS are not fighters, Mamurov was quoted in local media on September 4 as saying. Instead, the group is interested in recruiting those who can help it build a state, such as doctors, teachers, electricians, and even cooks.

Mamurov claimed that IS was promising such individuals "from $20,000-$30,000" to bring their families to IS-controlled territory, according to the website.

The SNB analyst estimated that 500-600 people from Uzbekistan are fighting alongside IS. "But we do not have any reliable data on the number of Uzbek citizens who have moved into the area controlled by IS," Mamurov added.

Mamurov's claims are interesting for a number of reasons.

He is suggesting for what appears to be the first time that the number of Uzbeks who have joined IS in Syria and Iraq could be higher than current estimates because those do not take into account recruits who are not fighters.

It is not known how many Uzbeks have actually joined IS or other militant groups in Syria. A number of widely varying figures have been put forward by various officials and analysts.

Militant Doctors?

There is plenty of evidence that IS is attempting to recruit medical professionals, not just from Uzbekistan but from all over the world.

In April, Adam al-Almany, a Chechen militant fighting alongside IS, put out a call on social media asking men and women with medical education to join a "medical battalion" in Syria.

Almany's call for doctors coincided with an IS video in which English-speaking physicians urged medical professionals to move to IS-controlled areas. The video featured Australian pediatrician Tareq Kamleh, 29, and an English-speaking physiotherapist named Abu Muqatil al-Hindi.

Prescriptions & Propaganda

The April video was more than just a recruitment call. As a propaganda message that claimed IS was launching its own socialized health-care program, it demonstrated one important reason IS needs qualified doctors and other medical professionals: to support its claims of being a real state.

By showing that it is able to keep medical services running in the areas under its control, IS can demonstrate its ability to govern. So the calls for doctors and other professionals as alleged by Mamurov would fit with IS's claims that it is building a functional "caliphate."

Beyond propaganda, there are practical reasons why IS needs to attract medical professionals. For example, IS has to treat its militants who are wounded on the battlefield.

Gunmen from IS and other militant groups are sometimes allowed to travel to Turkey for treatment if they are injured. But there are reports that some have used the opportunity to return to their home countries.

And though IS has attempted to "persuade" local doctors to work for it, there have been problems. Female physicians say that IS's strict rules forcing them to wear burqas and banning them from conversing with male colleagues make it impossible for them to continue working.

In an attempt to force much-needed medical professionals to return to areas under IS control, the militant group has threatened to confiscate the property of doctors and pharmacists who have left, according to a document obtained by journalist Jenan Moussa.

Not Just IS

It's not just IS who is attempting to recruit doctors from Uzbekistan and elsewhere in the former U.S.S.R.

Abu Rofik, a militant who claims to be from Volgograd in Russia and fights alongside an Uzbek-led faction within Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, has made several appeals for Russian-speakers with medical training or skills to join his group.

"We need pediatricians, otolaryngologists, therapists, infectious-disease doctors, and TB doctors," Abu Rofik claimed in one recent recruitment call via the VKontakte social network.

'We'd Never Join IS'

But beyond Mamorov's claims and IS's propaganda efforts, it is unclear whether any Uzbek medical professionals have actually joined IS.

One young doctor, Fariddin Mukhiddinov from Samarkand, told local media that he had refused an offer from IS recruiters. He claimed he was offered $45,000 to go to Syria after he graduated from a foreign medical school in 2014.

And Uzbek doctor Abdulraim Bozorov told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that he and his colleagues would never join the militant group -- even though doctors' salaries in Uzbekistan are extremely low.

"I know that some of my colleagues go to Kazakhstan and even to the Middle East," Bozorov said. "But even they would not join such godless and nasty people from IS whatever money they pay."

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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