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Egypt Charges Tajik Nationals With Links To IS

Has Tajik President Emomali Rahmon got a problem on his hands?

Has Tajik President Emomali Rahmon got a problem on his hands?

Egypt has charged four Tajik men with having links to the Islamic State (IS) militant group, RFE/RL's Tajik service has reported.

The four men, whose names have not been released, were detained near the Giza Pyramids on September 19, officials at the Tajik Embassy in Cairo told RFE/RL on November 5.

According to the embassy officials, the Egyptian authorities allege that the four Tajik men were trying to recruit fighters for IS from among tourists visiting the pyramids. When police searched the men's vehicle, they allegedly found an army knife, a military uniform, and printed materials urging people to join Islamic State.

The four Tajik nationals deny the charges.

The report comes amid fears in Tajikistan that the rise of IS is leading to increased radicalization in the republic. The Tajik authorities believe that around 200 Tajik citizens have fought in Syria and Iraq with militant groups, although it is not possible to verify that figure.

One recent report claimed that IS militants from Tajikistan are receiving as much as $5,000 in payment for fighting in Syria, although experts have said that there is no independent verification to support that assertion, or even whether IS militants are paid at all.

Underlying the rumors, however, are genuine concerns that young Tajiks are traveling to fight in Syria, in many cases after first going to Russia as migrant workers.

RFE/RL's Radio Ozodi reported in September that according to the Tajik authorities, 20 Tajik nationals from the small village of Chorkishlok in the republic's Soghd region have gone to Syria to fight against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mehri Ibrohimov, the head of the Chorkishok rural council, told Radio Ozodi that 17 people from the village were fighting in Syria, while two more had gone from the neighboring village of Kalai Duk.

Unemployment, Hopelessness Pushing Young Tajiks To Russia

According to Ibrohimov, all of the men had gone to Syria after first going to Russia as migrant workers.

Local people noted that the young villagers' decision to join the fighting in Syria did not come out of the blue, but came amid problems with unemployment and lack of prospects for young people, which had first led them to seek a better life in Russia or Turkey, where the young migrant workers become targets for extremist groups.

Several residents of the village told Radio Ozodi that local unemployment and a sense of hopelessness had pushed the young men to go to Russia to find work.

"Perhaps for them the jihad in Syria was an attempt to try their hand at changing something, albeit in a different country," a villager suggested.

The village imam, Sadriddin Sodikov, could not give a reason for why the young men had gone to Syria to fight against Assad.

Sodikov was scathing about their decision to go to Syria, telling Radio Ozodi that the men were "deluded idiots and ignoramuses" who were "poorly educated and dropouts who didn't know the laws of Islam and the Koran, and who were not supported politically, so succumbed to the calls to go and wage jihad."

Some of the young men did not even attend the local mosque, the imam said.

One elderly resident, a 70-year-old man named Nizomiddin Yormatov, suggested one explanation for why the young men had gone to fight in Syria.

The youths had been in a bad situation and had fallen in with a group of like-minded individuals with shared religious values. Then they had gone to Syria, attracted by the opportunity -- as they saw it -- of fighting against injustice and being judged by Allah.

The story of one Chorkishok resident, 29-year-old Masrur Ibrohimov, is far more complex than this simple explanation, however. Its convoluted international links, leading from Tajikistan to Russia, then Egypt and on to Turkey and eventually Syria, reveal how local hardships in Tajikistan led two young people to join an extremist ideological struggle thousands of kilometers from home.

Ibrohimov's mother, Ummiya, told Radio Ozodi that the young man had gone to Syria with his sister, Maknuna. The story started in 2012, when Maknuna got married a young Egyptian man she met on the Internet. The marriage -- Maknuna's second -- was unhappy, and after eight months in Egypt, Maknuna and her husband split up.

Masrur, who was working in Russia, went to Egypt to rescue his sister. The two siblings ended up in Turkey, where, after just a few months, they fell in with extremists and went to Syria. Masrur became the chef for a militant group there. (His mother did not say which group, but it is likely to have been affiliated with IS.) When the young man was killed in a bombing attack, his sister remained in Syria and married a Tajik militant.

-- 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