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Kyrgyz Official Blames Minority Uzbeks For Syria Presence

Members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces walk in a field as smoke billows in the background following clashes with IS jihadists during a large operation southwest of the oil hub of Kirkuk, in Iraq.

The majority of Kyrgyz nationals who have left to fight in Syria are ethnic Uzbeks, an official from Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee (KNB) has claimed.

Talant Razzakov told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known as Radio Ozodlik, in a March 17 interview that 80 percent of Kyrgyz citizens who have joined the Islamic State (IS) group and other militant factions in Syria are ethnic Uzbeks.

Razzakov said that the Kyrgyz security forces are now undertaking research in an attempt to understand why most of those joining IS are Uzbeks.

"This greatly concerns us. What measures should be taken in this matter? Is it enough to limit [measures] to outreach, or should there be more stringent measures within the framework of the law? Government agencies are currently scratching their heads over these issues," Razzakov told Radio Ozodlik.

According to Razzakov, one of the reasons why ethnic Uzbeks are joining IS at greater rates is because of the "public interest in religion" among that group.

"Another factor is linked to the large number of Uzbek organizations connected to religion in foreign countries.

"For example, Saudi Arabia, as far as we know, is home to approximately 100,000 Uzbeks. Among them, it has become popular to be a member of Salafi and Wahhabi organizations. Those living in those countries may have an impact of citizens of Uzbek nationality in Kyrgyzstan," Razzakov told Radio Ozodlik.

Razzakov also said that there are Kyrgyz citizens who have traveled -- both legally and illegally -- to study religion in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These individuals also influence people in Kyrgyzstan, he claimed.

Deirdre Tynan, Central Asia project director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), told RFE/RL that it is "safe to say that the majority" of Kyrgyz nationals who have gone to Syria to fight alongside or otherwise support the Islamic State group are ethnic Uzbeks.

However, Tynan cautioned against framing the issue of ethnic Uzbeks going to Syria as an "ethnic" problem rather than an issue of security and society.

"The Kyrgyz government and security services should be aware of the high risks of stereotyping ethnic Uzbeks with could lead to further harassment, discrimination and tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan," Tynan said.

Kyrgyz In Syria

It is not known how many Kyrgyz nationals are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq, including alongside IS.

Razzakov told Radio Ozodlik that, according to official data from the Kyrgyzstan authorities, there are currently 230 Kyrgyz nationals fighting in the ranks of IS, while 30 Kyrgyz citizens have died in the fighting.

Thirty of the Kyrgyz citizens fighting or supporting IS in Syria are women, Razzakov said.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group found that between 2,000 and 4,000 citizens from across five Central Asian states -- Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan -- have gone to Syria to fight with or alongside IS and other militant groups.

Ethnic Uzbek Militant Groups In Syria

There is evidence to show that ethnic Uzbeks are present in a number of different militant groups in Syria and Iraq, including IS.

Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (also referred to as the Imam Bukhori Jamaat) and Jannat Oshiklari (also known as Tawhid wa Jihod) both fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria's Aleppo Province, although they are independent factions that have not pledged formal allegiance to the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Imam al-Bukhari Jamaat pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in November.

Another Uzbek-led faction, Seyfullakh al-Shishani's Jamaat, has pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra, and contains mainly Russian-speaking militants. The faction maintains its own structure, although it is officially part of the Nusra group.

It is not known how many of the ethnic Uzbeks in these groups are Kyrgyz nationals.

The Kyrgyzstan prosecutor-general named the Imam al-Bukhari Jamaat and Jannat Oshiklari as well as Jabhat al-Nusra and IS in a request filed this month to the Osh City Court, asking that the groups all be designated as illegal terror groups.

-- 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.


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