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Tajik Families Left Grieving, Wondering After Sons Join IS

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

Nazirbek Madkholov joined the Islamic State group in Iraq, where he was killed in fighting.

Nazirbek Madkholov joined the Islamic State group in Iraq, where he was killed in fighting.

On July 19, Sherkhon Madkholov heard the terrible news that his son Nazirbek, 26, had been killed in Iraq.

It was Nazirbek's older brother Murodbek who called home to break the news.

But Murodbek is also in Iraq, with his wife and three children.

Both sons traveled to live in areas controlled by the militant group Islamic State (IS), though Murodbek claims he is not participating in the fighting.

The Madkholov family hails from the village of Saidkul Turdiev in Tajikistan's Hamadoni district, part of the southwestern Khatlon region.

According to the local authorities, seven people from Hamadoni have gone to IS-controlled territories in Syria and Iraq.

Three have been reported killed, including Nazirbek.

Nazirbek went to Iraq in March. Just three months earlier, he had taken his new wife to Moscow in order to find work.

Sherkhon Madkholov, the father of Nazirbek and Murdobek, who went to the Middle East to join the Islamic State group.

Sherkhon Madkholov, the father of Nazirbek and Murdobek, who went to the Middle East to join the Islamic State group.

But he did not stay in Russia.

Madkholov first learned that Nazirbek had joined IS from the young man's mother-in-law. Nazirbek first put his wife on a flight from Moscow to Kulob in Tajikistan, the mother-in-law said.

"After a few days he phoned his mother-in-law and said he had already left," Madkholov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

"He spoke to me three months later from Iraq. The last time he called was in May. I didn't speak with him any more after that," he said.

It seems Nazirbek was following in the footsteps of his older brother Murodbek, who had already gone to Iraq.

Murdobek's journey started several years ago, when he went to Russia as a labor migrant. At first he worked in a service station, then he got involved in trading, though his father did not specify exactly what Murdobek bought and sold.

At some stage after that, Murdobek must have become interested in religion.

In 2012, he called his father to say he was taking his wife and two children to Egypt "on a cruise."

But he never came back, his father said.

In Egypt, Murdobek's wife gave birth to a third child, a daughter. At some point after that, the family traveled on to Iraq.

Madkholov says he talks to Murdobek occasionally by telephone. Murdobek's wife is desperate to come home to Tajikistan, Madkholov says. But her husband won't let her leave.

Not Knowing Is Worse

While Madkholov's sons did get in touch with him to say they had gone to Iraq, other families from the Hamadoni district have not heard from their relatives, who are believed to be in IS-controlled territory.

The Interior Ministry told Odinamo Kurbonova that her son Safarali, who had been working in Moscow, was in Syria. The security authorities now say he is in Turkey, but his family is not sure where he is.

Kurbonova last spoke to him in April. She needed an operation on her spine and Safarali had promised to he would send her the money and come home to help her. But he never did.

Labor Migrants?

Madkholov blames his sons' radicalization on the fact that they were "ignorant" and did not receive a proper religious education growing up.

The boys' mother died in 1998 after giving birth to 10 children. Murdobek, Nazirbek, and their eight siblings barely went to school and are semiliterate.

But other local men who joined IS in Syria and Iraq had comfortable backgrounds, according to officials.

"Even people whose parents are intellectuals have gone there," said Odinakhmad Sharipov, the chairman of the local village council.

Sharipov pointed out that two other men who had been reported killed in Syria -- Saidbek Yunusov, 31, and Mekhrubon Murodov, 26 -- had come from stable families and had a higher education.

The local men who had gone to Syria had been radicalized in Russia and promised better jobs, the village chairman claimed.

All seven men from the Hamadoni region who are thought to have gone to Syria or Iraq had been labor migrants in Russia.

"Everything that happens, happens in Russia," said Sharipov.

"There is no propaganda about Islamic states or jihad in our village," he said.

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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