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Relatives Identify Purported Kazakh 'Jihadists' In Video

  • RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

Purported 28-year-old Kazakh jihadist Maqsat Aimakhanov shown left in a video allegedly shot in Syria and right before leaving Kazakhstan.

Purported 28-year-old Kazakh jihadist Maqsat Aimakhanov shown left in a video allegedly shot in Syria and right before leaving Kazakhstan.

Family members have identified two men who appear in a video of purported Kazakh jihadists preparing to wage war Syria and are asking authorities to help bring them home.

The video, posted online earlier this month, shows dozens of young men along with women and children assembled at an unknown location. The video has shocked many in the country, which is not normally associated with jihadist causes.

As Kazakh authorities look for clues as to who, exactly, is in the video and where it was shot, families in Kazakhstan are stepping forward and identifying some of the purported jihadists as their kin.

RFE/RL has learned that at least two have been identified. Both are married men in their late 20s who are known as devout Muslims, and both are from central Kazakhstan.

Amanzhol Zhansengirov

One is 27-year-old Amanzhol Zhansengirov, from the village of Maksimovka, 30 kilometers from the capital, Astana. In the video he introduces himself as Abu Hafiz al-Kazakhi and is shown wearing a hat emblazoned with an Arabic phrase announcing the wearer is on the path to jihad.

Speaking to RFE/RL, the man's relatives presented an old photo of Zhansengirov. Wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie, he bears little resemblance to the gun-wielding man in the video.
Amanzhol Zhansengirov, shown left as a purported jihadist and right as a business student.

Amanzhol Zhansengirov, shown left as a purported jihadist and right as a business student.


"I was shocked when I saw the clip on television," said Kairat Zhansengirov, Amanzhol's older brother. Kairat Zhansengirov said the last time he had heard from his brother was about six months ago when his brother called home.

In that call, Amanzhol said his wife had given birth to a son and promised to return to Kazakhstan in two years. The call was believed to have been made from Turkey.

Maqsat Aimakhanov

The second purported jihadist is 28-year-old Maqsat Aimakhanov, a husband and father of three from Zhezkazgan, 450 kilometers southwest of the capital in neighboring Karagandy Province.

Aimakhanov was identified by his father, Esmurat Aimakhanov, who told RFE/RL he last saw his son in January but that the family had heard from him just a few days before the video surfaced on YouTube this month. Esmurat Aimakhanov said he had contacted the authorities long ago to request help in locating his son.

Both Amanzhol Zhansengirov and Maqsat Aimakhanov appear to have left home in pursuit of better opportunities.

Kairat Zhansengirov said his brother had studied management at an Astana university. However, his career never took off and he subsequently held a number of low-paying jobs.

Eventually, Amanzhol left for Almaty, where according to his family he got a job with a travel agency that involved frequent business trips abroad.

"Amanzhol told us he was offered accommodation, employment, and money in the foreign country to which he was traveling," Kairat Zhansengirov said. "He didn't own a place in Astana or Almaty and always lived in rented homes."
Maksat Aimakhanov is identifiied in this YouTube video grab with a red circle.

Maksat Aimakhanov is identifiied in this YouTube video grab with a red circle.


Esmurat Aimakhanov said his son was struggling to feed his family of five and pay his mortgage on the income he made as a taxi driver. He said his son left after saying he had been offered a well-paid job in a different town.

Esmurat Aimakhanov said Maqsat would frequently call home and the family said they believed the phone calls came from many different countries, including Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey.

Verifying The Video

Shortly after the video appeared, authorities in Astana said they were studying the clip to verify if the purported Kazakh jihadists were indeed Kazakh nationals.

In a written response to questions from RFE/RL, the National Security Committee said it was "aware that some Kazakh citizens are fighting abroad" and that efforts are under way to return them to Kazakhstan.

The committee did not comment specifically on individual cases or claims by family members.

RFE/RL has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the video, or the location where it was filmed.

Thousands of people from many different countries are believed to have traveled to Syria to fight in a civil war that has been raging for more than two years between rebel forces and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, based on reporting by RFE/RL Kazakh Service correspondents Svetlana Glushkova, Maqpal Mukanqyzi, and Asylkhan Mamashuly
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