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How A Kyrgyz Man Went To Syria For Jihad & Cash, But Wound Up Disabled

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

Saidmurat was recruited by and fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra's foreign-fighter battalion, Katiba Sayfulla, which includes many Central Asians, such as "Usman," pictured, who was recently killed.

Saidmurat was recruited by and fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra's foreign-fighter battalion, Katiba Sayfulla, which includes many Central Asians, such as "Usman," pictured, who was recently killed.

Saidmurat, 20, was promised thousands of dollars to fight on the battlefield alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate.

But instead of hard cash and battlefield glory, all he got was an injury that left him an invalid.

Saidmurat is now recuperating at home in his native Jalal-Abad in southwestern Kyrgyzstan. He is also is being investigated by law-enforcement authorities, though it is not clear if he will be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, the young man has been allowed to share his story with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

When Saidmurat Met Islam

Saidmurat's radicalization appears to have occurred by degrees, though the full story is not clear.

His first encounter with someone who preached violent jihad took place not in Kyrgyzstan but in Chechnya in the Russian Federation.

Unable to find employment in Kyrgyzstan, in March 2014 Saidmurat went to the Chechen capital, Grozny, to work as a cook in a local cafe. There he met a man named Islam, who "talked about jihad a lot," Saidmurat tells RFE/RL.

And when the cafe closed, Saidmurat's new friend took him to Istanbul -- not for work but to recruit him to fight in Syria. It is not clear from Saidmurat's tale whether he understood this or not.

Waiting for them in Istanbul was a man named Musab, who Saidmurat says was aged 35.

Saidmurat and Islam did not spend a long time in Istanbul. Just four days later, Musab sent the pair and two other men -- a Tajik and a Chechen -- to Syria.

"A guy was waiting at the border," Saidmurat recalls.

Promises, Promises...

Saidmurat says that he and his fellow recruits were promised large sums of money for taking part in fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra. "In the taxi on the road to Syria we were told we would get between $5,000-$10,000 for fighting in battles," the Kyrgyz recalls.

But the reality was far different from what the Nusra recruiters promised, Saidmurat says.

When the new recruits got to Syria, Nusra took their documents -- including their passports. That meant, of course, that they could not return home.

Then the starry-eyed young recruits were lectured about jihad for "18 or 19 days" by an Uzbek man named Abdullah, according to Saidmurat.

But Saidmurat insists that what he saw in Syria was not "jihad." "Muslims are fighting Muslims," the Kyrgyz says.

Disillusioned, Saidmurat began to ask his Nusra commanders to let him go home. But they refused. Instead, the new recruits were trained for battle.

Their living conditions were far from ideal, Saidmurat complains. "We lived in cold and dark rooms. There was nothing to eat," he recalls.

Dying For A Meal

Ironically, Saidmurat was not injured while waging "jihad" on the battlefield. The young Kyrgyz would-be "jihadi" was hurt in far more prosaic circumstances. "I went out to eat, but I came under fire," the Kyrgyz says. "I was wounded and lost consciousness."

Saidmurat came to in a hospital in the city of Konya in Turkey. It is usual for militants wounded in Syria to be taken to Turkey for medical treatment.

The young Kyrgyz underwent three operations. "The doctors had to remove half of my lung," he says. "Now I'm an invalid."

Katiba Sayfulla

Saidmurat was recruited by and fought alongside Jabhat al-Nusra's foreign-fighter battalion, Katiba Sayfulla.

Originally named for Sayfullakh al-Shishani, the ethnic Chechen who founded the group before his death in 2014, Katiba Sayfulla used to be a predominantly North Caucasian group. The group is based in northern Aleppo Province.

Few North Caucasian militants remain in its ranks, however. Its emir, or commander, is Abu Ubayda al-Madani, an ethnic Uzbek who speaks fluent Arabic.

Its fighters include many Central Asians, including Kyrgyz nationals. Two Kyrgyz citizens -- one an ethnic Uzbek from Batken in southwestern Kyrgyzstan and the other a Kyrgyz sniper -- have recently been killed, according to Katiba Sayfulla's propaganda wing, White Minaret.

The group also contains a number of Arab foreign fighters and Syrian "ansars," or local militants.

Although the group is formally part of Nusra, and its members have pledged allegiance to Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani, Katiba Sayfulla is a distinct unit and carries out its own recruitment, fund-raising, and propaganda efforts.

As Saidmurat's story shows, some of this recruitment is occurring in Chechnya, where recruiters targeted Central Asian migrant workers.

Prevention

More needs to be done to prevent Kyrgyz citizens going to fight in Syria, according to Kanzharbek Bokoev, the head of the Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (GKNB) in Jalal-Abad.

"We need to target schools, because older students are already starting to be recruited and sent to Syria," Bokoev tells RFE/RL.

Many of those who had been recruited to Syria are victims of fraud, Bokoev says. "They would like to come back, but they can't," he adds.

The GNKB says that more than 350 people have gone to Syria from Kyrgyzstan, including around 80 women.

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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