Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq have published a video saying that they have asked permission from the group's senior leadership to wage jihad in Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik service has reported.
A bearded ethnic Tajik who appears in the video and who claims he is fighting with IS in Iraq says that Tajik militants in Islamic State approached the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, with a proposal that they return home to "fight infidels" in Tajikistan.
The militant, who gives his nom de guerre as Abu Umariyon and looks to be around 30 years old, has appeared in a number of other videos, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service. Abu Umariyon says he is from the small town of Samsolik in the Nurobod district of Tajikistan's Rasht Valley.
'We Want To Return To Tajikistan And Fight Infidels There'
Abu Umariyon says that he and his fellow Tajik militants asked Baghadi and Islamic State leaders for permission to go back to Tajikistan and fight with the extremist group Jamaat Ansarullah.
However, Baghdadi did not give his permission.
"The emirs [militant leaders] who passed on their message to Baghdadi told them that right now they have to wait," the Tajik militant explains.
Jamaat Ansarullah, Tajikistan, And Syria
Jamaat Ansarullah is a banned religious extremist group in Tajikistan. It is not known exactly when it was formed, but it first became known in September 2010 after the group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Khujand. Since then the group has issued several videos calling for Tajiks to join it in jihad against "infidels," according to local media. The group's leader is purported to be Amriddin Tabarov, also known as Dumullo Amriddin, who is believed to be from the Nurobod district.
In November, 2014 Tajik security officials in Sughd province detained 12 suspected members of the group who were allegedly attempting to recruit locals to join the fighting in Syria. Members of the group are also reportedly fighting in Afghanistan.
Jamaat Ansarullah is not the only militant group in Tajikistan that has been linked to Syria. In December, a court in Tajikistan convicted 11 men of membership in the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU); two of them men had sought to fight in Syria, according to prosecutors.
Although Baghdadi reportedly said that Tajiks in Iraq and Syria cannot return home to wage jihad at this time, a second Tajik militant in the video does not call on Tajiks in Tajikistan to wage jihad at home but says they should come to Syria or Iraq via Turkey and become suicide bombers. The militant warns that if Turkey tries to stop Tajik militants reaching Syria, there will be "explosions" on Turkish soil.
Tajik Militants Acting As IS Highway Patrol In Iraq?
A road is seen in the background of the video, and the Tajik militant says that his job is to inspect those traveling along the road to see that they do not "import cigarettes and alcohol into the town." The militant says that he has also been tasked with checking to see that women traveling along the road are clad in hijabs, the veil that IS has determined as the approved Islamic clothing for women.
During the video, Abu Umariyon stops a car and speaks accented Arabic to the passengers, according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service. The passengers say they are not carrying any cigarettes.
Tajiks In Syria And Iraq
Officials in Tajikistan have given differing reports on the numbers of Tajik nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The State Committee for the National Security of Tajikistan said in November that there are around 300 Tajik citizens fighting in Syria.
However, the Tajik Interior Ministry has said that around 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria and that around 50 had been killed there.
Edward Lemon of the University of Exeter, who tracks Tajik fighters in Syria, told RFE/RL that he has found online evidence of 52 Tajik fighters in Syria.
Central Asian Concerns About IS Threat
In recent months, there have been increasing fears across Central Asia regarding the domestic threat posed by IS. These threats include the potential for "blowback" from citizens returning home after fighting in Syria or Iraq and have been stoked, in part, by reports -- including via IS propaganda videos -- that hundreds of Central Asian militants are fighting in Islamic State's ranks.
Beyond these security concerns, Central Asian leaders have also portrayed IS and its brand of militant Islam as posing an existential threat to the national identities of local peoples and states and thus to the stability of the entire region.
In Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmon referred to IS as "the plague of the new century and a global threat" and warned Tajiks not to underestimate the "negative role in Tajikistan" of the militant group, while Kyrgyz President Almabek Atambaev warned that IS's radical Islam posed a "special threat" to Kyrgyz national identity.
In a response to these ever-increasing fears, as well as in an effort to exert influence in the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a regional security alliance to be boosted so that it can impose "preventative measures" against IS in the former Soviet space. At a December 23 summit meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO), which includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Putin said that "coordinated actions" were needed in the region.
However, some in Central Asia have argued that the threat of IS is being used as a convenient excuse to crack down on certain freedoms.
In Kazakhstan, following the publication by IS of a video showing Kazakh children at a training camp in Syria, the government has closed around 500 websites that it says are promoting Islamic State and other pro-jihadi material.
Neighboring Kyrgyzstan has also seen a crackdown against so-called Islamic State propaganda, with the government blocking a local news portal in December 2014 after it showed a clip of the Kazakh children training camp video. The editors of the website accused the Kyrgyz government of acting illegally and punishing journalists.
These crackdowns appear, in large part, to be an attempt by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to demonstrate that they are in control of the situation regarding the Islamic State group. In recent comments, Kazakh Deputy Prosecutor-General Andrey Kravchenko insisted that Kazakh intelligence services had identified the children shown in the Islamic State video and were working on bringing them home.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk