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In Kyrgyzstan, Syria 'Jihad' Recruiters Changing Tactics

While it is not known exactly how many Kyrgyz citizens are fighting in Syria, including with the IS group, according to official data over 200 Kyrgyz nationals have gone to Syria.

While it is not known exactly how many Kyrgyz citizens are fighting in Syria, including with the IS group, according to official data over 200 Kyrgyz nationals have gone to Syria.

Rakhat Sulaimanov, the spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (GKNB), has noted a change in where Kyrgyz nationals are being recruited to fight in Syria.

While the overwhelming majority of Kyrgyz citizens who have left to fight in Syria for the Islamic State (IS) militant group come from the south of the country, recently recruiters have begun to target the northern regions, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyk, reported on January 15.

"People are not just going [to Syria] from Batken [in southwestern Kyrgyzstan] or Osh [in the south of the country]. There is recruitment in other regions, too," Sulaimanov said.

While it is not known exactly how many Kyrgyz citizens are fighting in Syria, including with the IS group, according to official data over 200 Kyrgyz nationals have gone to Syria, Radio Azattyk reported.

According to Esen Usubaliev, director of the Prudent Solutions think tank in Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz authorities have undertaken over 600 "outreach" events in all areas of the country, as a result of which "have dissuaded many citizens from leaving."

However, Usubaliev also warned that, while he valued the efforts of Kyrgyzstan's security forces -- who are also undertaking work with returnees from Syria -- the Islamist recruiters are changing their tactics. "Here, the [security] bodies are powerless, they do not have the technology to continually monitor the actions of the radicals. It's all about money. It would be good if the state could pay more attention to this issue," he said.

In its January 15 report, Radio Azattyk spoke to a woman from Kyrgyzstan's northernmost Chui Province, who said that her husband had gone to fight in Syria. The woman, named as Gulmira (not her real name) said that in May 2014, when she was eight months' pregnant, her husband went to Kazakhstan to work. Then he called Gulmira saying he was in Turkey.

Gulmira's husband told her that "life is good here. We're going to Syria, the border is open. I'll send you a text message from my Skype account. Don't tell anyone we've been in touch."

Later, Gulmira's husband told her via Skype that he had gone to Syria "for jihad."

Gulmira told Radio Azattyk that her husband had been recruited in Kazakhstan. "He got a job in a workshop. He was recruited there. Our relatives worked there but apparently they are members of some radical organization. He began to change as soon as he started working there. He prayed before, but he wasn't so zealous. He started making me wear a hijab, and read prayers. That's how he went to Kazakhstan. And got lost," Gulmira said.

Gulmira's husband then started to insist that she join him in Syria, she said. Gulmira refused, but later learned from her sister-in-law that her husband had married another woman, also from Kyrgyzstan. "He said that if I didn't join him he would be forced to marry. I asked him: 'You went to Syria to die. What is there for us to do there?'" Gulmira said.

Security Crackdown

Recent news reports from Kyrgyzstan have indicated that the security authorities are cracking down on those suspected of recruiting Kyrgyz citizens to fight in Syria, and on those suspected of involvement with extremist groups inside Kyrgyzstan.

On January 13, a 21-year-old man from the southern city of Osh was questioned by investigators on suspicion that he sent 60 fellow citizens to fight with Islamist militants in Syria.

GKNB spokesman Sulaimanov told RFE/RL that the suspect had confessed to using an apartment in Istanbul, Turkey, as a way station for the recruits.

The GKNB on January 12 said that the authorities had detained seven groups suspected of plotting terror attacks on Kyrgyz soil. The GKNB said that over the past several years, several groups of Kyrgyz nationals have returned to the country from Syria.

Suspicious Of U.S. Intentions

Some in Kyrgyzstan have reacted to the fears of the growing threat posed by groups like the IS group and its recruitment of Kyrgyz nationals to fight in Syria with suspicions against the United States and its Western allies.

A January 15 report by the website quoted the chairman of the Republican Council of Veterans of Batken, Satybek Moldaliev, as warning that the United States had said it intends to fight terrorists and the countries that support them.

The United States "is 'fighting' with the most stringent methods. They mount missile and bomb strikes on the countries that, in their opinion, are implicated in terrorist campaigns," Moldaliev said, adding that the United States was "finding" terrorists in places where "there is either no reliable defense system that can withstand its attacks or where there is a complex political situation."

"They [the U.S. military] could bomb Kyrgyzstan," Moldaliev added. "After all, our bandits are fighting in Syria and Iraq and this is a reason to say we are supporting international terrorists. But they will not bomb us, because we are a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization."

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

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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