Against a backdrop of ever-growing Central Asian fears over the threat posed by Islamic State (IS) militants, the director of a Bishkek-based think tank has claimed that the Sunni extremist group has allocated around $70 million to destabilize the situation in Central Asia.
Kadyr Malikov, who leads the Religion, Law and Politics analytical center, told reporters at a January 20 Bishkek press conference that the main goal of the Islamic State group is to destabilize the situation in the Fergana Valley, a region that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
According to Malikov, there is a fighting faction within IS named Mawarannahr (an Arabic term meaning “Transoxiana” and referring to a region that roughly corresponds to contemporary Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, south Kyrgyzstan and south-west Kazakhstan). This group, which includes militants from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, will be allocated the $70 million to use for a series of terrorist attacks in Central Asia, Malikov claimed.
While he did not give any details about the sources of his claims, Malikov did admit that the “information has not been confirmed yet, but we receive signals.” In his warning of the “Mawarannahr Group,” Malikov is likely referring to an Islamic State video from October, in which a group of Central Asian militants from the predominantly Uzbek faction Katibat al-Imam Bukhari pledged allegiance to the IS group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
That video showed two Uzbek militants, named as Abu Hafs al-Uzbeki and Abu Sa’ad al-Uzbeki, who said that they came from the “land of Mawarannahar.” The rest of the Imam Bukhari faction pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban in November. It is likely that the group split over differences in loyalties, with some militants transferring to the Islamic State, while the majority then declared their loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
It is likely that even after their switch to the Islamic State group, the faction from the Imam Bukhori group retained their structure as a unit within IS rather than militants being absorbed and dispatched to different groups.
There is no evidence that Islamic State has sent groups of militants from a particular country back home to commit terror attacks there. Neither is their prior open-source evidence that suggests the group is funding such plans.
A recent video by a Tajik militant fighting with the Islamic State group suggests that the opposite is the case.
The video, released in early January, features a Tajik militant named Abu Umariyon, who says that a group of Tajiks passed on a message to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to ask permission to go back to Tajikistan and fight with an extremist group, Jamaat Ansarullah, there.
Baghdadi refused permission, however. Abu Umariyon explained that, “The emirs [militant leaders] who passed on their message to Baghdadi told them that right now they have to wait.”
That Baghdadi would refuse permission for groups of fighters to leave Syria and Iraq and head home to commit terror acts there is not surprising. The Islamic State group is engaged in extensive clashes in both Syria and Iraq, with a variety of opponents, and is under attack from the U.S.-led coalition.
And while the Islamic State group has released a number of videos calling on Muslims in the West to carry out terror attacks on their home soil, these messages have usually included the caveat that Muslims should attack at home only if they are not able to come to Syria.
A video released in November, for example, shows a group of French Islamic State militants calling on Muslims to commit terrorist attacks back home in France. However, the main message of the video, which was titled What Are You Waiting For?, was for French Muslims to emigrate to Syria and join IS.
Citing Kazakhstan’s state press service, Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev held a meeting on January 20 with Nurtai Abykaev, the chairman of the country’s National Security Committee. Nazarbaev ordered additional measures to be taken to secure Kazakhstan’s borders, as a measure against the presence of the Islamic State group in Central Asia.
The reports of Nazarbaev’s instructions -- and the comments by Malikov about the domestic threats posed by IS -- coincided with the release of a report by the International Crisis Group examining the sociopolitical context of the growing phenomenon of radicalization across Central Asia.
The report, which found that as many as 4,000 men and women from Central Asia have gone to fight with or otherwise support IS in Syria and Iraq, said that governments in the region have as yet done little to address why their citizens are joining IS. The report also recommended that Central Asian governments implement programs to rehabilitate returning radicals.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk