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Astana Probes Video Allegedly Showing Kazakh 'Jihad' Family in Syria

  • RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

A screen grab shows dozens of purported Kazakh fighters in Syria.

A screen grab shows dozens of purported Kazakh fighters in Syria.

A toddler in a plaid shirt launches into a tantrum as a slightly older girl refuses him a sip from her juice box.

The scene of youthful innocence could fit into the highlight reel of any family vacation -- if not for the gun-wielding man standing in the background.

The government of Kazakhstan says it is aware of a video posted to YouTube earlier this month that purports to show a Kazakh "family" of 150 people preparing for jihad in Syria.

The 20-minute clip, which has since been removed from YouTube but is available on the LiveLeak website, is mostly filmed at a large villa in an unknown location.

Titled "The Muslim Family of 150 People Who Moved to Sham," it features children, teens, and young adults explaining in Kazakh, Russian, and Arabic why they have decided to join Islamist rebels in Syria.

Sham is the classical Arabic name for Syria.

Testimonials To Jihad

"We are examining the video, but I cannot tell you when the examination will be concluded," said Saktagan Saduakasov, a spokesman for the Kazakh state agency on religious affairs.

RFE/RL has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the clip or identify anyone in the video, which includes testimonials from group members about the purpose of joining jihad in Syria interspersed with young children praying, playing, and participating in push-up drills.

"God Almighty obliged us to go on jihad," says one teenager, speaking in Kazakh. "We came for jihad to the land of Sham at the Lord's calling. Allah Almighty showed us that jihad is the most important thing for us."

He recites a prayer from the Koran and then translates it into Russian: "Don't say those who fell while following God's path are dead. They're alive and they are among us."

Toward the end of the video, about 50 men holding weapons sit in a group on the villa's front steps. A man wearing a hat bearing an Arabic phrase indicating a person on the path to jihad addresses the camera.

"With the Lord's blessing we are now on jihad's path with this equipment," says the fighter, brandishing his weapon. "And Allah said in another verse, 'If you turn away from my path you'll be replaced by people from other flocks -- they will not be like you,'" he adds, seeming to address why Kazakhs should participate in an Arab country's civil war.
Kazakh fighters greet each other in the video.

Kazakh fighters greet each other in the video.

The video then cuts to a large explosion followed by what apparently is the suicide bomber giving his final statement in Arabic as a flag belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, hangs in the background.

It is not clear from the video if the bombing and testimonial that follows is related to the Kazakh group.

Drawing Central Asians

Thousands of foreigners have reportedly joined radical rebel groups fighting in Syria's more than two-year-old civil war, which began after the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad violently repressed pro-democracy demonstrations.

There have been previous reports of Central Asians, who are predominantly Muslim, being recruited to join in the fighting. In April, a parliamentarian in a Kyrgyz opposition party accused mosques in the restive south of encouraging teenagers to fight.

In September, Russia and Chinese media aired a video purporting to show six fighters from Turkmenistan captured by pro-government forces while fighting for an Al-Qaeda-connected group. One, identified as Ravshan Gazakov, was shown in a video apparently teaching his 5-year-old son bomb-making skills.

And in June Nurtay Abykayev, chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, said there were several militants from Kazakhstan fighting in Syria.

An imam in Karagandy, about 600 kilometers from Astana, told RFE/RL that a couple had recently come to the mosque to tell him that three of their sons had left for Syria.

"There are several parents in our region who are in similar situations," said the imam, who asked not to be identified because he was not given permission to speak on the topic. "They come to the mosque once a week to pray for the well-being of their loved ones."

Written by Glenn Kates, based on reporting by Makpal Kozhakanova of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service; additional reporting by Muhammad Tahir of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service