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Kyrgyzstan To Prosecute Syria Returnees As Mercenaries

Islamic State (IS) militants stand next to an IS flag atop a hill in the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani in October.

Islamic State (IS) militants stand next to an IS flag atop a hill in the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani in October.

Kyrgyzstan is set to prosecute as mercenaries those returning from fighting in Syria with the Islamic State (IS) group, the head of the investigative department in Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry has said.

Rafik Mambetaliev said on February 16 that Kyrgyzstan's security authorities had identified several individuals who had returned home after being recruited in Kyrgyzstan to fight in Syria.

Kyrgyzstan's Criminal Code includes an article dealing with mercenaries, which prohibits participation in hostilities in a foreign state and imposes a penalty of up to seven years in prison for those found guilty of fighting abroad. The law also bans the recruitment, training, financing, or other material provision of mercenaries or their use in armed conflict or hostilities, and imposes a penalty of up to eight years for doing so. Returnees from Syria will be prosecuted under this article, Mambetaliev said.

Mambetaliev also said that militants were using the Internet as a tool to recruit young Kyrgyz nationals to fight in Syria. "Even the most remote areas have the Internet. Young people are recruited mainly through web-based resources," he explained. "They watch videos that contain calls to the 'Muslims' to fight on behalf of these groups, and they are then sent to Syria and Pakistan."

Militants are also actively targeting girls and young women for recruitment, Mambetaliev warned. "The very young are being sent, and also women with children, with babes in arms. They go to the conflict zone, where they become the wives of warlords," he said.

Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry says that there are almost 300 Kyrgyz nationals fighting with the IS group in Syria. Of those, the ministry estimates that around 40 are women.

Young women are also increasingly involved in recruiting individuals to fight in Syria, the ministry says.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group, which examined the phenomenon of recruitment of Central Asian men and women to the IS group, noted the comments of Kyrgyz parliament member Irina Karamushkina, who said in October 2014 that the country was "concerned by the growing number of women who commit extremist crimes.... Recruiters are incentivized to recruit girls because women are not checked on as frequently as men."

Rayim Salimov, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's investigative department, said that there had been several recent cases in which police have seized banned extremist literature and detained several imams who were "engaged in propaganda for the creation of an Islamic State," according to the website.

Salimov said that over 500 DVDs of banned extremist material had been seized by police, as well as 300 books, 25-30 journals, 10 leaflets, audiocassettes, videocassettes, flash memory cards, and SIM cards for mobile phones.

In an effort to combat propaganda from the IS group and other organizations, Kyrgyzstan also blocks websites showing videos deemed to contain radical content, the ministry says.

Despite the Interior Ministry's attempts to crack down on extremist propaganda and recruitment, the International Crisis Group noted in its report that recruitment cells in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring Kazakhstan were apparently able to operate despite a degree of awareness from the security forces.

The Interior Ministry admitted in its February 16 comments that tracking extremists is a challenge, saying that it was "virtually impossible to keep track of every extremist cell." The ministry added that Kyrgyzstan had banned 13 out of the over 70 Islamic movements in the country.

The ministry's comments come amid increasing concerns not only in Kyrgyzstan but across the whole of Central Asia regarding the dangers posed by the IS group, including the threat of "blowback" from Central Asian militants returning home after fighting in Syria.

-- 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